By George Henry, The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Alex Gonzalez isn’t too concerned about the pressure of a wild-card race.
“You have to leave it outside,” he said. “You have to do your job. This time of the season, for me, pressure doesn’t work.”
Gonzalez hit a three-run homer and Martin Prado bunted in a run during a four-run seventh inning as the revived Atlanta Braves beat the Florida Marlins 4-1 Wednesday to maintain their lead in the National League wild-card race.
Atlanta has won two straight following a season-high four-game losing streak. The victory kept the Braves 41⁄2 games ahead of St. Louis, which won 3-2 at Pittsburgh.
“We know we’ve got a great team,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got a great leader [in manager Fredi Gonzalez]. We’ve got great pitching. We’ve got a great bullpen. I just go out there and do the best I can.”
Five Braves combined on a four-hitter, and the Marlins didn’t get a hit after the third or a runner after the fifth.
Cristhian Martinez, Eric O’Flaherty (2-4), Jonny Venters and rookie Craig Kimbrel each pitched a perfect inning, with Kimbrel striking out the side for his major league-leading 44th save in 49 chances.
O’Flaherty lowered his ERA two points to 1.05 ERA, best among major league relievers.
“It’s not easy against their bullpen,” Florida first baseman Gaby Sanchez said. “They’ve done a heck of a job the whole year. It’s not fun going up there and having to face them.”
Greg Dobbs homered in the second off Randall Delgado, and Ricky Nolasco (10-11) held the lead until the seventh.
Dan Uggla walked with one out and went to third on Brian McCann’s single, the Braves’ third hit. Prado squared as Nolasco released a pitch, and the ball bounced softly inside the first-base line as Uggla scored without a play. Prado wound up with a bunt single.
“I was trying to go to first the whole time,” Nolasco said. “I just didn’t field it cleanly. It should’ve been an out. Obviously, I didn’t make the play. I’m pretty sure Martin thought it was an out, too, until I bobbled it. He started running after that. It’s frustrating.”
Fredi Gonzalez credited Prado with being fundamentally sound to keep the inning alive.
“That was a hell of an execution on his part,” the manager said. “Just trying to get a run. We were running and we were able to execute.”
When Prado got the safety squeeze sign from third-base coach Brian Snitker, he was only hoping Nolasco would throw a fastball.
“It’s been a while since I got a bunt down,” Prado said. “In that situation, you can’t be too late and you can’t be too early or they find out what you’re doing. I always get tough pitches to bunt, like sliders. Finally, I got a fastball.”
Alex Gonzalez homered on an 0-2 count with two outs, his 13th of the year. He went 2 for 3 and finished the series 8 for 11 (.727) with five RBIs against his former team.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve been kind of tight,” he said. “But I try to do the best I can to take it day by day, inning by inning. Try to do the little things.”
NOTES: Nolasco was coming off a 13-4 win at Pittsburgh last Friday, but was 0-2 with a 9.27 ERA in his previous four starts. In 19 career games, including 18 starts, Nolasco is 5-7 with a 4.76 ERA against Atlanta. ... Mike Dunn pitched the eighth for Florida. ... Atlanta took an 11-4 lead in the season series. ... Florida will play a doubleheader today at Philadelphia to make up the twinbill that was postponed Aug. 27 by Hurricane Irene. RHP Anibal Sanchez will try to win his second straight start in the first game. He pitched a 3-0 shutout last Saturday at Pittsburgh. RHP Alex Sanabia, who has never faced the Phillies, will make his first start this season in the second game. He is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in six career road starts. ... The Braves are off tonight. Atlanta will start RHPs Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy in three games this weekend against the New York Mets.