The usual feeling Gio Gonzalez evokes when he pitches is joy. Sunday night, it was fatigue. The Atlanta Braves turned his bid to win 20 games into a shift on the assembly line. They spit on balls on the edge of the strike zone. They flicked and fouled away tough pitches. He threw his final pitches through persistent rain. His nationally televised showcase became a backbreaking slog, and the Washington Nationals headed home with a pennant race still on their hands.

The Braves swept the Nationals out of Turner Field with a 5-1 victory, knocking Gonzalez out after five grinding innings and punishing their sloppiness to seal the game. The Nationals could have virtually eliminated the Braves from the National League East race this weekend. Instead, their magic number to win the division remained 11 and their lead went from 81 / 2 games to 51 / 2 with 16 more to play.