The Nationals went into Tuesday night’s game with NL East rival Atlanta looking to establish even more distance between the two teams. Washington sent Jordan Zimmerman to the mound, counting on his veteran calm to get another pennant race win.
Adam LaRoche continued his hot hitting, with two hits and two RBI. Drew Storen continued to make his case for the Nationals’ closer job by getting his third consecutive save.
The Nationals grabbed an early four-run lead en route to winning yet another crucial game against their nearest competitor.
Washington came out swinging their first time up. Denard Span led off the home half by pulling a hard-hit grounder past Freddie Freeman. The ball went deep down the right field line, and Span easily made second base with his 37th double of the season. Anthony Rendon followed up by pushing a bunt towards the right side. The sacrifice moved Span up to third base. After a Jayson Werth walk, Adam LaRoche singled to center to drive home Span. Ian Desmond followed with a single of his own, with Werth scoring from second base. Bryce Harper followed with a sharp line drive that Atlanta center fielder Emilio Bonifacio dove after, but couldn’t catch. Since the play was in medium center field, and the runners held to insure the ball would drop, Bonifacio threw to second in an attempt to nab Desmond. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged the Desmond-safe-at-second call, but the replay wasn’t conclusive enough to overturn the “safe” call. Wilson Ramos followed that with a first-pitch single to right to bring LaRoche home. Asdrubal Cabrera’s subsequent sacrifice fly to right field scored Desmond. At the end of the first, Washington led 4-0, and things were looking good for the home team.
The next inning, a LaRoche single scored Werth to put Washington up 5-0 after two innings. The mood in the park seemed light, but that wasn’t to last.
Atlanta, stubborn club as they are, started their comeback in the top of the fourth. Phil Gosselin led off the inning with a line drive double over Harper’s head in left field. Freeman’s single to short left-center field allowed Gosselin to move to third. After Justin Upton struck out, Jason Heyward pulled a grounder the right side. LaRoche threw to second to force Freeman, but Desmond’s return throw to first went past a sprawling Zimmermann & out of play. Gosselin scored, Heyward was sent to second. Chris Johnson’s single plated Heyward, and the score was now Washington 5, Atlanta 2.
In the bottom of the fourth, a Werth double deep into the left field corner scored Rendon from first. A 6-2 lead sounds somewhat safe, but the Braves kept up the pressure. In the top of the sixth, Gosselin led off with a grounder to new shortstop Danny Espinosa. Espinosa’s throw was wide of the bag for an error, and Gosselin reached first. After a Freeman line out to right field, Upton hit a towering fly ball that landed deep in the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field. The two-run blast made the score 6-4 halfway through the sixth.
Jordan Zimmerman retired Heyward (short fly to center field) and Johnson (line out to left) to finish the top half of the sixth. Zimmermann’s line was good (6 innings, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 7 strikeouts). Aaron Barrett came on in the top of the seventh to retire Atlanta in order. In the eighth, Bonifacio led off with a double to left-center. That got the Washington bullpen active, while Barrett retired Gosselin on a 6-to-3 grounder. Bonifacio had to hold at second.
Washington manager Matt Williams played left-left matchup by calling for left-hander Ross Detwiler to face Freeman. Detwiler was able to strike out Freeman on an 81 MPH breaking ball low-and-away, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Williams then went right-right by bringing Craig Stammen in to face Justin Upton. Stammen was able to strike out Upton on a 93 MPH knee-high fastball on the outside corner. The fans cheered even louder as the matchup adjustments worked.
In the ninth, Drew Storen came on for the third straight game to close out the game. He retired the Braves in order in the ninth, and the fans exulted loudly. The Nationals’ magic number is now 10, and they win the series. Wednesday, Stephen Strasburg gets the chance to lead his team to a sweep, while Aaron Harang starts for Atlanta.
Notes: after Wednesday afternoon’s contest, Washington heads out to New York for a four-game series against the Mets. It’s the start of the last road trip of the year.
As of Tuesday night, the Nationals have a nine-game lead over second-place Atlanta. It’s the largest lead in present-day Nationals’ history.
Desmond came out of the game with lower back tightness, according to manager Williams. It didn’t appear to be serious.