So much happened on Monday night (and Tuesday morning) over 13 innings that it seems that much of it was lost in all the commotion and wildness. The Nationals topped the Braves in a 4 1/2-hour game on two alert base-running plays, and moved to six games ahead of their NL East rivals. They claimed their ninth win over their rival in 13 tries this season. And they moved to 30 games over .500 for the first time this season. They did so when their most consistent starter faltered early on and their offense stranded 10 base runners.
Here are some observations and thoughts that were overlooked in the marathon game:
● “This was almost like a playoff atmosphere,” said Chad Tracy, who drove in the game-winning run as a pinch hitter. “These are the type of teams you’re going to be playing and why not prepare for them now?”
Added Jayson Werth: “They’re all big wins at this point. There’s still a lot of baseball left, but obviously against a team that’s on your heels like the Braves are it’s good to get the first one.”
Said Danny Espinosa, who scored the winning run, on the deflating loss for the Braves: “They’re an experienced team. I don’t know how much it’ll get them down.”
●Monday was the first time Jordan Zimmermann had faced the Braves all season. He has pitched effectively against them in four starts over the previous three seasons. But because of quirks in the pitching schedules, he had yet to face them this season.
The Braves, one of the league’s best hitting teams, welcomed Zimmermann with hard-fought at-bats. They worked counts and fouled off pitches and made him work. Even when he faced only four batters in an inning, like the second, he tossed 21 pitches as the hitters fouled off pitches. Freddie Freeman, for example, pestered Zimmermann for a 10-pitch walk in the fourth inning.
“The first inning I was a little more amped up and I was rushing to the plate a little bit,” he said. “In the end, I was just up in the zone, and when you live up in the zone, you’re going to get crushed.”
Zimmermann’s command was off. He was rushing his delivery. For only the fourth time all season, Zimmermann allowed four runs in an outing. And after giving up only four earns run in all of July, the right-hander has surrendered 10 runs. But it can fixed easily, he said.
“I just get ahead of myself and I’m just going too fast,” he said. “I’ve got to calm down out there and stay on my back leg a little more. I was leaking out and the arm was dragging, that’s why I was missing up in the zone. I fall into that pattern every once in a while. It’s something I’ve got to work harder to fix.”
●The Nationals made mistakes that Manager Davey Johnson attributed to youth playing a pennant race. Ian Desmond dropped a Kurt Suzuki throw to second that would have nabbed a second base stealer of the game. He also whiffed on a feed from Danny Espinosa at second base. Both could have proved costly. Also, as the game progressed, players shortcut their own at-bats, swinging hard for the fences, wanting to the end the game with one swing.
“I think I might have been at the beginning of the game we were kind of a little excited probably,” Desmond said. “But at the same time, we did jump out ahead real quick. Things were going well. But kind of hit an idle spot right there.”
“We’re very young,” added Johnson. “This is great. This is the learning curve. This is experience. Chipper [Jones] said it, too. Young players, they have a tendency to go up there in situations and try to hit home runs, and he tells them to try to get a single. Just try to get a base hit. Be a hitter and don’t try to end it yourself. Because when you do, you start chasing and do all kinds of things. But that’s also the atmosphere pushing it to that level.”
●Johnson and some players spoke highly of Edwin Jackson’s willingness to lend a hand for the spent bullpen. After Craig Stammen pitched the 12th and 13th innings, he was likely going to pitch another or hand the ball off to Jackson.
Jackson tossed seven strong innings on Saturday and Monday was a throw day in before Friday’s start. Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty asked Jackson if he could throw in the game. He agreed. As a veteran, he could have said no. But Jackson, who is signed for a one-year, $11 million deal this season, agreed. He said he felt good enough to throw.
“I wasn’t doing it for heroism,” he said. “But the bullpen was done. It was a game that we could possibly win. It’s definitely a game where they don’t want to throw position players. It’s not a give-away game. So I guess I was the next best option to legitimately have a chance to win.”
Added Zimmermann: “I’d love to have him back next year. I don’t know what the Nationals’ plans are, but he’s a great teammate and a great pitcher.”
●On the bullpen, Johnson said seven relievers were used but would be fine. All of them pitched one inning, except Craig Stammen who tossed two innings. Expect Johnson to lay off relievers who pitched three straight days, such as Michael Gonzalez. But he may be used again since he didn’t pitch a high-stress inning.
“We’re going to be fine. Most of my guys had short work,”said Johnson Then, he quipped: “I’m going to go nine with Stras anyway.”
●Werth made a nifty grab in the fifth inning, a sliding catch that exposed his surgically repaired left wrist to the ground. After he caught the ball, he quickly pulled his hand up. On a sliding catch in right field in early May, he broke his wrist. This time he was fine.
“The play that I broke it on was more of a line drive,” he said. “That ball was coming straight down. But still, that’s going to my left and sliding like that. It’s a play that I’ve made who knows how many times in my life? But unfortunately that one time it didn’t work out so well.”
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nats beat the Braves 5-4 in 13 innings on a walkoff RBI single that felt like an error and came because of two heads-up base-running plays.
The Nats are hitting their stride as race heats up, and that’s both figurative and literal. Thomas Boswell writes about the change in hitting philosophy.
The Braves and Nats have similiar built-from-within organizations, a blueprint honed by the Braves during their long run, writes Rick Maese.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Indianapolis 2, Syracuse 0: Jeff Mandel allowed ony two hits over six innings but was saddled with the loss. Eury Perez went 1 for 4 and is hitting .331.
Harrisburg 5, Reading 2: Anthony Rendon hit his first home run at this level, finishg 1 for 3. On rehab, Jhonatan Solano waldo finished 1 for 3 with a home run.
Kannapolis 11, Hagerstown 4: Billy Burns went 3 for 5 and is hitting .314 in103 games.
Batavia 7, Auburn 4: Brandon Miller and Spencer Kieboom both went 2 for 4. Brett Mooneyham allowed onlt two runs over four innings. Bryan Harper pitched two scoreless innings.