In a game postponed to Tuesday afternoon due to Monday’s horrific tragedy at Navy Yard, the Washington Nationals brought baseball back to the District in an incredible 6-5 walk-off win over the Atlanta Braves in Game One of a day-night doubleheader.
If the newly returned 60-degree weather didn’t stir up nostalgia for October baseball, the Nats’ fight to overcome a blown lead against one of the League’s most dominant closers served as a reminder that Washington’s boys of summer are down, but not out.
At least, not officially.
With the Game One win, the Nats sit 4 ½ games out of the second NL Wild Card spot, trailing the Cincinnati Reds, who face Houston tonight.
Come hell or high water, there is baseball left to be played in D.C.
A day on which the words, “Let’s play ball” were preceded by a stirring moment of silence to honor the victims of the lives lost just blocks away from Nationals Park, the Nats did what little they could to return a piece of normality back to the capital.
With 3.1 percent odds to make it into the playoffs, the Nats started Tuesday’s game with a three-run advantage against Atlanta starter Michael Minor. After Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman drew back-to-back walks, Jayson Werth doubled and Bryce Harper hit an RBI grounder. Then, Adam LaRoche singled home Werth before the third out was recorded.
Unfortunately for the Nats, the three runs were all they managed to tally for the following seven innings.
In the meantime, the Braves earned back a run against starter Dan Haren in the sixth after Elliot Johnson doubled and took third on a fly ball from Justin Upton. Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to left to knock in Johnson to make it 3-1.
In the seventh, Drew Storen took the mound to relieve Haren, and things quickly went downhill for the Nats.
With one out, Johnson and Andrelton Simmons singled before B.J. Upton flied out to left. Then, pinch-hitter Dan Uggla singled in Johnson to bring Atlanta back within one.
In the eighth, Davey Johnson called upon Tyler Clippard, who had no added luck.
With one out, Freeman drew a walk before Evan Gattis hit a shot to center to put the Braves on top 4-3.
The Nats had a shot at coming back in the eighth against Luis Avilan. With two outs, Harper walked to bring up Ian Desmond as the go-ahead run. After Desmond went up 3-0 in the count, he swung at three straight pitches – two of which appeared to be outside the strike zone.
To make matters worse, the Braves tallied an insurance run in the ninth after Ryan Mattheus gave up a single to Elliot Johnson and, with Ian Krol on the mound, Freeman reached on a sloppy fielding error by Desmond that made it 4-3 Braves.
But the Nats, who have played some of their best baseball of the season in recent weeks, took full advantage of their long-shot against closer Craig Kimbrel.
With an ERA of 1.33, Kimbrel is not the most likely candidate to hand the Nats a walk-off opportunity. Nevertheless, after walking Adam LaRoche and allowing a single to Wilson Ramos, Kimbrel loaded the bases with a no-out walk to Anthony Rendon.
And, who should step up to bat for the Nationals in such a do-or-die situation?
Tracy, in all the glory that comes with touting a .189 batting average, failed to reach first base safely. He did, however, ground the ball to first, allowing the Nats to pull within one run with just one out.
Then, Span, riding a now-27 game hitting streak, made just enough contact with the ball to set up an opportunity for Simmons to turn the play that could end the game. Instead, Span’s grounder snuck by Simmons through the middle, allowing the Nats go-ahead base runner to come home for a 6-5 walk-off victory.
THE GOOD: The Nationals, at long last, have lived by the very adage that has echoed across Twitter in recent weeks - It ain’t over, ’til it’s over. Denard Span is riding a 27-game hitting streak. Dan Haren pitched a solid final line of 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K on 58 of 93 pitches thrown for strikes. And, although they tallied just four total hits in nine innings, the Nats came back in an unlikely situation to make Game Two of the doubleheader all the more important.
The Nats also seemed to finally learn the importance of patience at the plate – they tallied seven walks on the day and just six strikeouts.
THE BAD: The Nats could have entered the bottom of the ninth in a tie-game situation, rather than a must-rally situation had Ian Desmond not booted a would-be routine play that allowed Elliot Johnson to score.
THE UGLY: One can’t help but think Desmond’s fielding error might have come off the heels of his own disappointment after he struck out in the bottom of the eighth. Instead of allowing ball four to pass him by – perhaps even twice in the at-bat – Desmond hacked at three pitches in a row, ending the Nats chances in the inning.
THE STATS: 6 R, 4 ER, 4 H, 2 E, 7 BB, 6 K, 2-for-8 with RISP, 6 LOB