After an emotional Monday following a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, the game between the Nationals and Braves scheduled for that evening was cancelled. Action between those two teams got underway in game one of a doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon. It was a game of highs, lows, and one of the most fun endings of the season.
The bottom half of the first inning saw Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman walk to begin the inning, and Jayson Werth drove home Span on a double to center. Bryce Harper then grounded out slowly to second base, but Zimmerman scored, giving the Nats the 2-0 lead. After an Ian Desmond strikeout, Adam LaRoche lined a single into right field to score Werth and give the Nats a 3-0 lead early.
After making Braves starter Mike Minor work very hard through the first two innings, Minor settled down to retire his final 13 batters. Dan Haren, the Nats starter, got hit hard a bit in the first inning but didn’t allow any runners to score through the first five innings. At one point, he retired 11 consecutive batters before allowing Elliot Johnson to double and score on a sacrifice fly in the sixth. The end of the sixth meant the end of Haren’s solid outing, leaving the Nats bullpen with a 3-1 lead.
Drew Storen entered to pitch the seventh for the Nats, and after getting Brian McCann to pop out to Desmond in shallow left field, he allowed two soft singles to Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons. So, with runners on first and second with one out, he found himself in a late-inning jam. He was able to get BJ Upton to fly out, but pinch hitter Dan Uggla laced a single down the left field line to score Johnson and move Simmons to third, making it 3-2 Nats. Storen got Elliot Johnson to fly out to left field to end the inning without any further damage and leaving the Nats lead in tact.
Then, things got bad for the Nats, as Tyler Clippard just didn’t have his stuff to retire the Braves in the eighth. He walked Freddie Freeman before giving up a huge home run to Evan Gattis, which put the Braves out front 4-3. Clippard was able to get out of the inning without any further runs allowed, despite walking Chris Johnson and giving up a single to Andrelton Simmons, but the damage was already done.
The confounding play continued in the bottom of the eighth inning after Bryce Harper walked in a patient at-bat with two outs. Then, Desmond got ahead in the count 3-0, and for some reason that I still do not understand, he swung and missed at three consecutive, borderline pitches to strike out and end the inning. To make matters work for Desmond, in the top of the ninth, he booted a routine ground ball that allowed another run to score, putting the Braves up 5-3.
In the ninth inning, all of the magic from the last month or so came to fruition for the Nats. Usually, a two-run lead is all but a guaranteed save for Craig Kimbrel, who many believe is the best closer in the National League, but Kimbrel wasn’t able to locate his pitches early. He walked LaRoche, allowed a single up the middle to Wilson Ramos, and walked Anthony Rendon to load the bases with none out. Chad Tracy pinch hit in the nine spot and grounded a slow roller to first, which scored LaRoche from third and moved all the runners up to make it a 5-4 game.
Then, the hot-hitting Span came up and grounded one just to the shortstop side of second base. It looked like it would tie the game for the Nats, and Span would be retired at first, but Simmons totally missed the ball. It rolled under and passed him, allowing Ramos to score from third and Rendon to score from second, as the Nats walked off the Braves to the delight of the Nats Park crowd.
Before today’s game, Craig Kimbrel allowed just seven runs all season long. The Nats were able to add three more to that total, although one run was unearned. With today’s unlikely and exciting ending, the Nats have won their 80th game of the season and have moved back within four and a half games of the Reds in the NL Wild Card race.
If today’s excitement wasn’t enough for you, the Nats are back tonight as they try to further erode the Reds lead and prevent the Braves from clinching the NL East title in DC.