ATLANTA -- As the past few months have elapsed, the Braves have looked toward September with the hope that the month will prove to be as kind to Derek Lowe as it was last year.
Though it might be difficult for Lowe to match the perfection he enjoyed during the final weeks of the 2010 regular season, he is heading into the final month of this year's regular season with some momentum and the pleasure of finally experiencing the thrill of hitting a baseball over an outfield fence for the first time in his life.
Lowe proved to be an adept multi-tasker, throwing six solid innings and drilling his first career home run while helping the Braves claim a 3-1 win over the Nationals at Turner Field on Wednesday night.
"It was fun," Lowe said. "I've never hit a home run since I was a Little Leaguer. That's the first ball I've ever hit over a fence in 38 years of existence. The only home runs I ever hit when I was a kid would just roll, and they would kick it around."
Lowe's third-inning leadoff homer off Nationals starter John Lannan proved to be the decisive blow during a game that was filled with memorable moments. Chipper Jones drilled the 450th homer of his career in the second inning, and Craig Kimbrel ended the evening in record-setting fashion.
With a pair of strikeouts in a perfect ninth, Kimbrel set a Major League rookie record with his 41st save. In converting his 23rd consecutive save opportunity, the 23-year-old right-hander helped the Braves gain an 8 1/2-game advantage in the National League Wild Card race with just 27 games remaining.
"We're winding down, and every win is big," Lowe said. "We know where we stand in the division. But you can't get complacent and think just because you have a big lead, you can just coast. You don't want to hope other people lose. You want to go out there and play like we have all year."
With Jair Jurrjens trending in the wrong direction and Tommy Hanson on the disabled list, the Braves were certainly thrilled to see Lowe limit the Nationals to one run and three hits in six innings. The only run he surrendered came when the only pitch he threw in the seventh inning was hit over the wall in right-center by Nationals first baseman Michael Morse.
Morse's homer and Ian Desmond's two soft singles were the only offense generated against Lowe, who has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of the five starts he has made since allowing the Nationals seven earned runs in just four innings on Aug. 2.
"The last three [starts] have been better," Lowe said. "It was a lot better. I was sharper over the course of the game, and then I got lazy there in the seventh and threw one right down the middle for a home run. But you feel like you have more competitive stuff for a longer time. That's going to give your team a better chance to win."
While lowering his ERA from 4.86 to 4.52 over his past five starts, Lowe has at least moved closer to duplicating last year's turnaround, when he carried a 4.53 ERA into September and then went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five regular-season starts.
"Last year he was the guy in September," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've seen signs of that, and hopefully, we can get him on a roll and get him going."
Jones jump-started the Braves' offense when he drilled his second-inning homer to dead center. The 39-year-old third baseman's fifth homer of the month, and the hustle Dan Uggla showed while hustling to record his 18th infield single with two outs in the third inning, provided all the support Lowe did not provide himself.
The Braves also got a two-hit performance from Matt Diaz just a few hours after acquiring him from the Pirates. But the most memorable offensive contribution certainly came when Lowe concluded his eight-pitch at-bat by lining Lannan's fastball just over the left-field wall.
After making the most of the 425th at-bat of his career, Lowe did not necessarily employ a casual trot. As he rounded first base and noticed that the ball had bounced back on the field, he started to sprint toward second base.
"I thought it hit the wall, because [Morse] had it," he said. "So I kicked it in gear to get a double. It would have been fun if I could have enjoyed it a little longer. I [honestly] don't remember running around the bases. You've got a million thoughts going through your mind."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lowe is just the third Major League pitcher since 1900 to hit his first career homer after celebrating his 38th birthday. The others are Randy Johnson, who did it at the age of 40 in 2003, and Preacher Roe, who accomplished the feat at 38 in 1953.
"D-Lowe has got a few more to go before he catches me," Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.