MIAMI (AP) — Their sluggish start now far behind them, Ronald Acuña Jr. and the World Series champion Atlanta Braves needed just one more win to complete a most stunning turnaround.
They earned it Tuesday night, beating the Miami Marlins 2-1 to take their fifth straight NL East title and finish the first leg of a trek they hope leads them to another crown.
Afterward, they popped Champagne and puffed cigars, basking in their accomplishment.
“It’s hard to win one,” manager Brian Snitker said. “To win five is pretty special. It’s a credit to our organization.”
William Contreras drove in the go-ahead run with an infield single in the fifth, and the Atlanta pitching staff turned in a solid performance.
With the win, Atlanta earned a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed in the NL, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Braves were 10 1/2 games behind the New York Mets at the start of June and lost four of five to New York in early August. But they were in familiar territory. Atlanta was 30-35 at one point last season before winning the World Series.
“To keep plugging along and the consistency that these guys showed throughout the whole year,” Snitker said. “Coming to work every day and worrying about today. They didn’t get caught up that we were behind.”
Acuña, whose 2021 season ended when he tore his ACL in this same ballpark, hit a two-out single in the second, scoring Orlando Arcia and giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.
“I am feeling so much happiness and joy,” Acuña said. He couldn’t get through his postgame interview without teammates dousing him in champagne. “Last year, I couldn’t experience this because of my injury. I am so happy to be a part of this club.”
The Braves swept the Mets over the weekend to take the division lead and entered the Marlins series needing a win or a Mets loss to clinch the division crown.
The Mets swept the Washington Nationals in Tuesday’s doubleheader but had to settle for a wild-card spot.
Kenley Jansen recorded his 41st save, working a perfect ninth to seal the win.
Starter Jake Odorizzi (6-6), who joined the team at the trade deadline, allowed one run in five innings. He struck out six, and gave up only two hits, including a home run by Jesús Sánchez in the fourth.
“It’s great to be a part of this,’ he said. “Every one of these is special. I was only here for two months of it but it doesn’t make it less special. It’s pretty fantastic.”
Reliever A.J. Minter escaped Miami’s threat in the eighth. Jon Berti hit a one-out double and stole his 41st base of the season. Bryan De La Cruz and Avisaíl García walked to load the bases. But Nick Fortes, pinch-hitting for Sánchez, popped out to end the inning.
“We tried to throw our best guys out there today and extend this thing,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We got out of some jams and stayed in the game. We just weren’t able to get that last hit.”
The Braves did not take advantage of many chances at the plate to stretch their lead, but their pitchers held the Marlins to four hits.
Collin McHugh and Raisel Iglesias pitched scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh in relief of Odorizzi.
In the fourth, Sánchez hit Odorizzi’s first pitch over the right field wall to tie the game.
Miami starter Braxton Garrett (3-7) was pulled in the fifth after Contreras hit a two-out infield single, which scored Travis d’Arnaud and allowed Atlanta to retake the lead.
Contreras had two hits and an RBI.
Garrett allowed six hits, two runs, walked five and struck out seven.
The Braves, one year after winning their first World Series title since 1995, are playoff-bound without All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who signed with the Dodgers in March as a free agent.
Atlanta also has 100 wins for the first time since 2003 (101-61). The Braves finished 88-73 in the regular season last year.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Michael Harris II notched Atlanta’s first sacrifice bunt of the season in the fourth inning to advance Arcia to second and Contreras to third.
As 160 games went by, it looked like the Braves might be the first team in MLB history to complete a full season without bunting.
The Braves did not score off it, even after the Marlins intentionally walked Acuña in the next at bat to load the bases. Dansby Swanson struck out to end the inning.
ALCANTARA WINS MARLINS MVP
Pitcher Sandy Alcantara was named Miami’s Most Valuable Player, as voted by members of the South Florida chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Alcantara, who has been in Cy Young contention all season, leads the majors with 228 2/3 innings and has pitched six complete games.
BRAVE OF THE YEAR
Third baseman Austin Riley is the repeat winner of Brave of the Year in voting by the Atlanta Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, edging out Swanson and Harris.
Riley is the eighth player to be named Brave of the Year in consecutive seasons since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. The others are Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Terry Pendleton, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel and Freeman.
Marlins: Placed RHP Edward Cabrera on the 15-day IL with a right ankle sprain.
RHP Elieser Hernández (3-6, 6.33) will pitch for the Marlins in Wednesday’s regular-season finale. The Braves haven’t announced their starter.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports