WASHINGTON -- Bobby Cox enjoyed a little champagne and a cigar after earning his 2,500th victory as a major league manager.
And it turns out it was all a big surprise to him.
"I had no clue during the game," Cox said.
Atlanta's longtime skipper earned a landmark victory at an opportune time Saturday, getting five effective innings from Derek Lowe and a three-run homer from Alex Gonzalez in the Braves' crucial 5-0 victory over the Washington Nationals.
The Braves snapped a four-game losing streak, and because San Francisco lost 10-9 in 10 innings to Colorado and the Padres beat the Reds 4-3, Atlanta moved into a tie with the Giants for the lead in the wild-card race. San Diego moved back atop the NL West.
"We could breathe a little bit. We haven't been breathing much, trying to catch people," Cox said. "It was a good win today, maybe get the team rolling, get a little momentum going."
The 69-year-old Cox, set to retire at the end of the season, became the fourth major league manager to reach 2,500 wins. He is seeking his 16th postseason appearance.
Cox was walking out of the dugout to congratulate his team after the big win and was about to throw away the lineup cards when pitching coach Roger McDowell stopped him.
"I never thought I'd live that long," Cox laughed.
Lowe (15-12) allowed five hits, walked one and struck out four, improving to 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in his last four starts. The right-hander has 13 scoreless innings in two games against the Nationals during his winning streak.
"I felt in control of the game, but the pitch count was outrageous," said Lowe, who finished with 103 pitches. "For some reason, I wasn't able to get quick outs or easy innings."
Lowe wiggled out of a jam in his final inning after his defense put him in a tough spot. With two out, Ian Desmond grounded to Derrek Lee at first, but the ball squirted under his glove. Adam Dunn flied to center, and Nate McLouth dropped the ball for an other error. But Lowe got Michael Morse to bounce out to end the inning.
The Braves scored four times in the sixth to take a 5-0 lead. They had just seven runs during their losing streak.
Lee doubled in Martin Prado with one out and McLouth followed with an infield single. Gonzalez then hit a drive to left for his 23rd homer.
Yunesky Maya (0-3) allowed five runs, four earned, and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings. The Cuban defector struck out one and walked three in his fourth major league start.
"Just that one inning that kind of went away," Maya said through a translator.
The Nationals had won a season-high four straight.
On Saturday morning, Cox relaxed in the visitors' dugout, talking about the last night he might spend on a major league road trip. He was going to dinner with a friend, and admitted he was a little embarrassed by all the attention his retirement has attracted.
"We would like nothing more than to put him back in the playoff atmosphere and in the games that matter," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "We're striving to do that right now."
Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman missed his third game with a rib injury. Manager Jim Riggleman said he doubted Zimmerman would play on Sunday and could miss the rest of the season. "It could be fine tomorrow or it could be two weeks," Riggleman said. Riggleman said that he wouldn't rest Zimmerman to preserve his .307 batting average. No Washington-based player has hit over .300 since Buddy Lewis hit .317 in 1940 for the Senators. ... Nationals CF Nyjer Morgan played his first game since returning from an eight-game suspension. He went 1 for 5. ... Cox hasn't decided on his starters for next week's series against Florida, and is considering starting some of them on three days' rest. ... The Nationals will honor Cox before Sunday afternoon's game.