Jun 20, 2014, 11:40 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: How do you put an end to a dominant streak by one club over yours, one that may have gotten into to your heads? How about a stunning, bottom-of-the-ninth rally against the best closer in the game? Unfortunately, that only works if you then finish things off with the winning run in extra innings, which the Nationals couldn’t do late Friday night.
Despite getting Anthony Rendon’s 2-run, game-tying homer off Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the ninth, the Nats still wound up losing again to the Braves in extra innings. Evan Gattis’ RBI single off Jerry Blevins in the top of the 13th, followed by a misplay by Danny Espinosa that allowed another run to score, put Atlanta back on top and ultimately sent the Nationals to their 20th loss to their rivals in 27 games over the last two years.
The Nats had looked lifeless through most of the game, shut down by Mike Minor while Stephen Strasburg was roughed up for four runs in six innings. They looked headed to yet another loss to Atlanta, their 20th in 27 head-to-head meetings over the last two seasons. But then came the bottom of the ninth, and suddenly the script flipped for a moment. Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Blevins combined to toss six scoreless innings in relief of Strasburg, but their teammates couldn’t push across the winning run.
Thus, the Nationals fell out of first place in the NL East. They now trail the Braves by 1/2-game, and they once again have to wonder what in the world they have to do to beat this team.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The ninth-inning rally was sparked by Nate McLouth, who drew a leadoff walk. After Greg Dobbs and Denard Span each popped up, Rendon stepped to the plate. He worked to a 2-1 count, then blasted Kimbrel’s pitch deep to left-center. Umpires initially ruled it a double, but as the crowd held its collective breath, a video review made it obvious the ball cleared the fence by a wide margin. Rendon circled the bases, the crowd roared and the Nationals had their biggest hit of the season, when they needed it most.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Strasburg needed 107 pitches to complete six innings — a whopping 98 pitches just to get through the fifth — yet incredibly he didn’t issue any walks. How was that possible? Well, the Braves did a remarkable job battling against him and then delivering big hits deep in the count. Six of their nine hits came with two strikes, including a string of three straight in the top of the fifth. That hasn’t been a common occurrence for Strasburg: Opponents had been hitting .156 with two strikes against the right-hander this season. Tonight, though, the Braves came up big when they needed to, and so Strasburg paid the price.
KEY STAT: Kimbrel has now blown four saves in 23 career opportunities against the Nationals. He hadn’t given up a homer with a man on base against anybody since 2011.
UP NEXT: A national audience on Fox will be watching as Doug Fister takes the mound against Julio Teheran on Saturday night. Note the special 7:15 p.m. scheduled first pitch.
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