A game that started out with promise took a turn towards misery as the Nats ended the fifth with a 9-0 lead and entered the ninth with a 9-8 lead. How the Nats got to this point is a story with more twist and turns than a back country dirt road, and after it reached this point it continued to twist and turn before reaching its conclusion. The Braves would take the lead in the top of the ninth against suddenly shaky closer Tyler Clippard before the Nats would come back and tie it in the bottom of the ninth on a Danny Espinosa homer. The Nats would end up winning it in the top of the eleventh on a Dan Uggla infield single in which he advanced to second on Zimmerman’s wild throw and to third on Sandy Leon’s passed ball before scoring on a Paul Janish single.
There is little to be said about a loss this horrific. The Nats have faced adversity time and time again this season. They started the season without Michael Morse before losing Zimmerman for a time and then losing Jayson Werth to a broken wrist and Wilson Ramos to a torn ACL. They suffered a similar loss earlier this season where they had a comfortable lead against the Reds and allowed them to come all the way back and win it on a Joey Votto walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. The Nats have faced adversity this season, but it all pales in comparison to this loss.
The game started out right for the Nats. Strasburg looked sharp as he mowed through the top of the Braves order allowing only a two out single to Jason Heyward. In the bottom of the first inning Hanson would set down Lombardozzi and Harper before walking Zim, allowing a double to LaRoche, and a two out three run homer to Michael Morse that was so gargantuan in distance that no Braves outfielder bothered to move. That alone felt like a comfortable lead with Strasburg on the mound, but this game was suddenly about to get a lot more uncomfortable.
Strasburg dealt with control issues all game long and gave up a double and a one out walk in the second before striking out Janish and Hanson to end the frame, but it was a sign of things to come. Strasburg would gut his way through five innings but looked to be getting stronger as the game headed into the sixth. With the Nats lead extended to nine on a Zimmerman three run homer and a Strasburg walk and Lombardozzi two run single. The lead was comfortable enough that Davey took the risk of leaving Strasburg in.
Strasburg no longer had it. He gave up a single, homer, single, fly out that was run down in the gap by Lombo, and a double before being lifted for Mike Gonzalez. Tonight was not Davey Johnson’s night when it came to handling his pitching staff as Mike Gonzalez would allow the two inherited runners to score before getting out of the inning, but would then pitch a scoreless seventh.
With a five run lead Davey Johnson took another risk. He decided to pitch Drew Storen for the second day in a row after he had just finished a rehab assignment. This move worked out equally bad for Davey as Storen would give up a single and a walk before being pulled for regular set-up man Sean Burnett. Burnett looked fabulous to start his outing as he struck out the first two batter he faced. He would then walk Prado to load the bases, walk in a run with a base on balls to Heyward, before giving up back to back singles to Chipper and Freeman to bring the Braves within one.
Then it all came undone with Clippard on the mound. Clippard has now blown two saves in his last four appearances and has not looked good in any of them. Relievers slump too and this is a bad stretch for Clippard. He will get back to being himself eventually, but on this night he started the ninth all over the place walking the first batter he faced and hitting the second before getting the first out on a strikeout. Michael Bourn would stand at the plate with the tying and go ahead runs on base and promptly hit a two run triple that gave the Braves the lead.
The Nats would have one last gasp in them as Espinosa would homer off of Kimbrel to tie the game, but it was only a gasp and the Nats would lose two innings later. This is the most horrific loss the Nats could have suffered. When they were up 9-0 over the Braves in the fifth inning it looked like they were ready to use this weekend to make a statement, but instead they allowed the Braves to steal this one. Now the Nats will have to fight their way back into this series with a double-header tomorrow.
Remember this is the one year anniversary of the Pirates 19 inning loss to the Braves that many believe they never recovered from. This is where the keep calm and carry on message of Davey Johnson will be tested. A collapse this horrific doesn’t always affect only one game, but it can have repercussions that will be felt as the season wears on.