- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Exactly one week after watching the Washington Nationals celebrate on their home field, the Atlanta Braves again couldn’t stop a visiting team from celebrating.

It was a bitter scene for the Braves, whose playoff hopes disappeared in a September free-fall.

The Braves scored two runs in the first two innings but managed only two baserunners the rest of the way as Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates clinched a playoff spot by beating Atlanta 3-2 on Tuesday night.

The Pirates’ win combined with Milwaukee’s loss to Cincinnati assured Pittsburgh of no worse than an NL wild card.

The Braves, who fired general manager Frank Wren on Monday, are 4-16 in September. Atlanta (76-81) has lost five straight to fall five games under .500 for the first time since May 9, 2010.

“I like to think I stay pretty even-keeled in terms of motivation or whatever you want to call it,” Braves left-hander Alex Wood said when asked if he was motivated to keep the Pirates from clinching at Turner Field.

Wood (11-11) allowed three runs, two earned, and seven hits in 7 2-3 innings. He was unable to hold a 2-0 lead and was hurt by Travis Snider’s tying homer in the fifth.

“I’d like to be able to bear down more than I did,” Wood said. “I made a couple mistakes. That one to Snider, you can’t miss big. You’ve got to miss small. That was just a really big miss to Snider. He made me pay for it. After that, there’s not much you can do.”

The Pirates reacted to the final out on Tuesday with little emotion. Players exchanged high-fives in a line on the field before sharing hugs in front of their dugout. The emotions flowed with the champagne and beer in the clubhouse.

Starling Marte gave Pittsburgh the lead with a sixth-inning double that drove in Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates, who are still chasing St. Louis for the NL Central title, have won 11 of 13.

Cole (11-5) trailed 2-0 after two innings but then recorded 17 consecutive outs through the seventh.

Pittsburgh left-hander Tony Watson gave up a one-out single to Phil Gosselin in the ninth, but he got Freddie Freeman to hit into a game-ending double play to earn his second save.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he admired the Pirates’ determined approach at the plate.

“These guys, they stick their nose in there offensively and they don’t give at-bats away and they put the ball in play and they get some results,” Gonzalez said.

Atlanta loaded the bases with no outs in the second but managed only one run when Andrelton Simmons grounded into a double play. Jason Heyward, who led off the inning with a walk, scored from third.

DROUGHT-BREAKER:

The Braves scored a first-inning run for the first time since Aug. 27. Freeman’s double to the right-field wall drove in Gosselin. Freeman was thrown out trying to advance to third base.

The run ended a streak of 23 scoreless innings by Pirates starting pitchers.

THE CATCH:

Simmons added to his already lengthy list of defensive highlights at shortstop in the third inning. He made a leaping grab of Josh Harrison’s line drive before landing hard on his chest. He also banged his nose and face to the ground, but held onto the ball as Wood expressed astonishment on the mound.

TRAINER’S ROOM:

Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton has been shut down. He hasn’t pitched since he felt discomfort in his groin and midsection late in his five innings of work in a victory over Boston on Sept. 16.

Braves: LHP Mike Minor has left shoulder inflammation and has been shut down for the remainder of the season. RHP David Hale will take Minor’s spot in the rotation on Thursday against the Pirates.

UP NEXT:

Pirates: LHP Jeff Locke (7-5) is scheduled to face the Braves for the first time this season on Wednesday night. Locke received two no-decisions against Atlanta last season.

Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (13-13) will try to match his career high with his 14th win. Teheran was 14-8 for Atlanta in 2013.

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