So much for being owned.
Two first-inning runs would be enough for the Washington Nationals (39-35), as Tanner Roark more than held his own against the Atlanta Braves (38-37), giving up one run over 5.1 innings as the Nats pulled off the 4-1 victory and split the four-game series.
Even though the Nats dropped the first two games of this series, and the second in crushing fashion, they were able to forget their past struggles against Atlanta and dominate the Braves over the past two games. As big as these victories were in the standings, where the Nats are now 1.5 games over Atlanta, they may be even bigger in the locker room.
“After the first two, I’m proud of the guys for staying in there and battling,” said Manager Matt Williams. “You have to have a short memory.”
The Nats hit Braves starter Ervin Santana (L, 5-5) well in the first inning, driving in two runs on a pair of singles, a walk, and a sacrifice fly, with RBIs from Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. Staked to a 2-0 lead, Roark took off.
Roark (W, 7-4) did not have his best showing, but he got outs when he needed them most, enabling him to avoid much damage. He rolled through the first three innings, retiring all but one Brave. One out into the fourth, he was well on his way to another clean frame when a LaRoche error turned a groundout from Freddie Freeman into a double. After the second out, a pitch to Jason Heyward that looked like strike three was called ball four. Despite these frustrations, Roark settled down and forced Justin Upton to ground out and end the inning.
But he could not work the same magic in the sixth, and after putting on three of the first four batters he faced to drive a run in, he was pulled for Craig Stammen, who retired both Braves he faced. Roark’s final line was impressive: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K. Stammen pitched a scoreless seventh as well, dropping his ERA to 2.58.
Though the pitching staff would allow no more than one run, the offense tacked on some insurance just in case. Denard Span’s double in the bottom of the fifth scored Sandy Leon to boost the Nats’ lead to 3-0, and Anthony Rendon came home on a wild pitch in the eighth to make it 4-1.
Tyler Clippard threw his second straight perfect inning against the Braves, who had scored on him in eight of his previous nine appearances. Rafael Soriano struck out three to earn the save against his former team, his 17th.
With a 1.5-game divisional lead, the Nats leave this series having neither gained nor lost ground. And though any opportunity to bury your divisional rival should be pounced upon, a split is a solid outcome, especially given how lopsided Washington-Atlanta series have been in the past. Confidence in hand and division lead in tow, the Nationals now head to Milwaukee, where the Brewers lead the NL Central and will be sure to provide another tough test.