Like Game 5 and 7/20/12 before it, the Nats looked to have a game well in hand. They jumped on Braves rookie starter Julio Teheran early and managed to score two runs in the first and second inning. In the first, Span hustled down the line and beat out a throw that pulled Braves first baseman Evan Gattis off the bag. Two batters later, Harper would lift his fifth homer of the season the opposite way into the left field stands. It was an impressive display of strength by the second year, 20-year old, player.
In the bottom of the second the Nats would add two more as Suzuki would lead off the inning with a walk, get sacrificed to second by Detwiler, and score on a Denard Span single. With one out Span would steal second, his second steal of the season, and Werth would single him home.
As impressive as the early offense was, even more impressive was the work of Ross Detwiler who went seven solid innings only allowing one run on four hits and striking out five Braves batters. Detwiler has been a nice surprise for the Nats since the end of the 2011 season when he started trusting his natural ability and relying almost exclusively on his fastball and sinker.
As good as Detwiler was, the Nats bullpen was just as bad. Coming into this game, Nats relievers had allowed 21 runs in nine games, with 19 of them being being earned, for an ERA of 5.76. What was thought to be a strength, and still should be when the pitchers regress to their career averages, has been a weakness early on in the season. On this night Clippard, Storen, and Stammen were the culprits.
Clippard entered in the eighth inning with the Nats looking to have the game well in hand; it continued to look that way as he got the first two batters he faced to fly out weakly. Then he found trouble with a patient, powerful, and dangerous Braves line-up as he walked Jason Heyward, allowed a single to Justin Upton, walked Evan Gattis to load the bases, and walked BJ Upton to force in the Braves second run of the evening.
Storen would be called upon to get the four out save but was unable to do so as he took the mound in a save situation for the first time in Nats Park since Game 5. Storen got the out in the eighth when Dan Uggla flew out deep to the warning track in center, but ran into trouble quickly in the ninth. He would go to a three ball count on Chris Johnson before letting him reach on a single and them Ramiro Pena dropped a beauty of a bunt for a base hit. With two on and none out, Fredi Garcia elected to sacrifice bunt and Storen was able to strikeout Andrelton Simmons before walking Heyward to set up a bases loaded two out match-up with Justin Upton.
Upton would make the Nats pay by grounding hard to Ryan Zimmerman, who made a good play in just getting the ball, and could have preserved the lead by not making a throw. By the time Zimmerman bounced to his feet, Justin Upton was half way down the first base line and may have beaten the throw. Zimmerman decided to go the short way to second and it proved to be a mistake, as his throw went wide of the bag and allowed the tying run to score.
The Nats went down in order in the ninth and it was on to Craig Stammen and extra innings which did not last long. In the top of the tenth Stammen struck out BJ Upton, walked Dan Uggla, got Chris Johnson to fly out, and then gave up one of those bad homeruns. Ramiro Pena, the hitter who an inning earlier figured his best move was to trick everyone with a bunt and of the three MLB homers since 2009, crushed a homer that landed deep in the Nats bullpen. What had been a 4-0 lead after the second inning was now a 6-4 deficit, and Craig Kimbrel would do what he does best and make the Nats go meekly into that good night.
Much like 7/20/12 when the Nats blew a 9-0 lead to the Braves at Nats Park this was a blip on the radar. The Nats are a very good team and even very good teams blow saves and lose games that they shouldn’t. As they say over the course of 162 these types of things will even out. The Braves have gotten off to a hot start and are 9-1 while the Nats have looked out of sync, at least as far as the bullpen and defense is concerned, and have still managed a 7-3 record through the seasons first ten. The Braves will not maintain this torrid pace and 9-1 may very well be their best ten game stretch of the season.
The Nats get an early shot at redemption with a 1:05 start tomorrow and happen to have their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, on the mound. In his last start Strasburg gave up six runs in six innings and will be looking to right the ship against the Braves as will the Nats bullpen. The best part of the baseball season is that it is 162 games and until October tomorrow is guaranteed. Now the Nats need to take advantage of that tomorrow, put this one behind them, and let Strasburg do what he does best. Be the Ace of the Washington Nationals.