Braves escape N.Y. with a win, breathe sigh of relief

NEW YORK — Nobody likes getting swept in a three-game series. But getting swept in a four-game set?

“A four-game series is just like somebody stepping on your throat,” Atlanta Braves right-hander Aaron Harang said Thursday night.

Thanks in large part to Harang, the Braves were able to lift up the New York Mets’ foot Thursday and record a 3-1 win that allowed Atlanta to avoid its first four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets since 1989.

The win snapped an overall four-game losing streak for the Braves, who preceded that skid with a nine-game winning streak.

“I know we won the nine games in a row and this is only a four-game losing streak that we had,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who went 2-for-4 and put Atlanta ahead for good with an RBI double in the first inning. “But you never want to come into a place and get swept four games. For us to salvage a (game in the) series, even though we still lost a series, we could have been a lot worse.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez managed Thursday’s game as if it were October. After seven solid innings of one-run ball from Harang, Gonzalez called on right-hander Jordan Walden to start the eighth but lifted him with two outs and two runners on in favor of right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel, who retired all four batters he faced for the fourth four-out save of his career.

Kimbrel was available for the extended outing because he hadn’t pitched since July 4, when he closed out the eighth win in the Braves’ nine-game winning streak by throwing a perfect ninth inning in a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“You want to win every game,” Kimbrel said. “But the fact that I haven’t thrown in five days kind of made it a little bit easier for (Gonzalez) to lean towards (using him in the eighth).”

While July 10 is far too early to declare any team is in a must-win situation, Gonzalez is aware every game is crucial in a tightly packed NL East. The win Thursday vaulted the Braves back into a tie for first place in the National League East with Washington. The Braves and Nationals have been trading the division lead since June 6, a 35-day stretch in which they have not been separated by more than two games.

“I think it’s going to be one of those seasons,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s going to be like that all year.”

Atlanta Braves - NOTES, QUOTES

—RHP Craig Kimbrel recorded a rare four-out save Thursday, when he retired all four batters he faced to close out the Braves’ 3-1 win over the Mets. It was the fourth four-out save for Kimbrel, who has 167 career saves, and the sixth time in 269 big league appearances that he has recorded more than three outs. Kimbrel was available for more than an inning Thursday because he hadn’t pitched since July 4 due to a blowout win July 5 and four straight losses leading up to Thursday. Kimbrel is 0-1 with a 1.96 ERA and a major-league-leading 28 saves this season. He has struck out 61 batters in 36 2/3 innings.

—RHP Aaron Harang continued to thrive against the Mets on Thursday, when he earned the win by allowing one run on four hits and four walks while striking out two over seven innings as the Braves eked out a 3-1 victory. Harang is 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Mets this season. Prior to Thursday, he hadn’t faced the Mets since April 18, when he threw seven no-hit innings in the Braves’ 5-0 victory. Harang is 9-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 19 starts this year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s just nice to see No. 46 anytime. That means we’re winning, so that’s a good thing.” — 1B Freddie Freeman, on RHP Craig Kimbrel, who earned a rare four-out save Thursday in the Braves’ 3-1 win over the New York Mets.