“They had their chances. We had our chances. It was one of those games.” Nats manager Davey Johnson.
The Washington Nationals have won some games this year in some unique ways, but last night’s topped them all.
Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla cleanly fielded pinch-hitter Chad Tracy’s ground ball in the bottom of the 13th inning. Then, well, who knows?
All we really know was the result: Danny Espinosa carried home the winning run, giving the Nats a 5-4 win in 13 innings and six-game lead over the Braves in the N.L. East.
With runners on the corners, Braves reliever Cristhian Martinez offered Tracy a 92-MPH sinker. The left-handed hitting Tracy pounded it to Uggla, who appeared to make a clean stab of the ball from his knees. When Uggla rose, he was caught between trying to find Kurt Suzuki at first base to attempt a double play, or throw home to try to nail Espinosa at the plate. He fumbled the ball after hesitating and was able to do neither.
“I was going over pretty much every situation that might or could happen,” Uggla told the Atlanta media. “I was like ‘if he hits a ball to my left’ or hits a ball hard right at me, I can just tag Kurt [Suzuki] and touch first and we can be out of it. He hit me a tough ground ball that I had to drop to my knees to catch and I didn’t exactly know where Kurt was. Once I got up and I just tried to throw the ball home, I couldn’t get the thing out of my glove.”
The ball fell to the turf and all Uggla could do at that point was watch Espinosa cross home plate and hang his head.
Asked after the game what he would have done in that situation, manager Davey Johnson, a former second baseman himself, said quickly and without hesitation, “With the infield in, you just gotta go home.”
Espinosa was on base only because he could not complete a sacrifice earlier in the inning after Ian Desmond singled to lead off. But Espinosa then made a heads-up play going first-to-third on Suzuki’s slow chop infield single when no one was covering third base to set up the first-and-third scenario for Tracy.
The wild ending made a winner out of Craig Stammen (6-1, 2.45), who threw two innings of shut out relief. In fact, manager Davey Johnson used his whole bullpen to get through the 13 innings, and seven relievers pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits.
Starter Jordan Zimmermann did not have his best stuff last night and struggled with an elevated pitch count. He threw 102 pitches in just five innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out just two.
Zimmermann allowed a run in the first inning on two hits and a walk, but his hitters came right back and staked him to a 4-1 lead when the inning was over. The big blow was Ian Desmond’s two-run home run, his 18th of the year and his first hit since returning from the disabled list. After the first inning though, Braves starter Tim Hudson and five relievers rendered the Nats bats obsolete — until that last crazy play.
THE TAKEAWAY: Wins like this get the baseball poets out talking about “teams of destiny” and the like, but it was certainly a weird ending to a tense game between division rivals. The win is significant though in that the Nats will leave this series with no less than a four-game division lead with the two teams scheduled for just one more three-game series left between them in September.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman was 2-for-4 with two walks. Everything he made contact with last night he hit hard.
THE BAD: Michael Morse went 0-for-6 and hit into a rally-killing double play to end the seventh inning. He left six runners on base.
THE UGLY: After striking out on a curveball to end the 11th inning, Bryce Harper slammed his bat in the batter’s box again, breaking the bat in two. It’s dangerous, embarrassing and unnecessary.
THE STATS: 13 hits, 6 BBs, 8 Ks. 4-for-13 with RISP, 12 LOB, 2 GIDPs. No errors, 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:05 pm against the Braves. Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 2.91) hosts lefty Paul Maholm (2-1, 1.57)