ATLANTA — At 2:11 a.m. on Sunday morning, more than seven hours after Saturday’s game was supposed to start, Wilson Ramos smacked a bloop single to center that gave the Washington Nationals a hard-fought lead. Kevin Frandsen followed with a hit that put an exhausting game out of reach and would help bring the end to a long night. After enduring a 3-hour 41-minute rain delay, the Nationals also outlasted the Atlanta Braves for a 4-1 win in 11 innings.
A wicked thunderstorm pushed the start of Saturday’s game back to 10:51 p.m. After waiting around for hours, Tanner Roark fired seven strong innings and the Nationals’ bullpen provided four scoreless innings. Adam LaRoche home run stood as the Nationals’ lone run until the outburst in the 11th inning. The marathon night ended at 2:29 a.m., with Rafael Soriano’s save and with the Nationals increasing their lead to 41 / 2 games in the NL East over their division rival.
“It was very cool, actually,” outfielder Bryce Harper said. “It was like midnight madness, I guess you could say. It was pretty cool to be able to do that.”
Long after Roark’s start and LaRoche’s homer, the Nationals’ rally began in the 11th inning with singles by Anthony Rendon and LaRoche. With one out, Bryce Harper drew a well-earned walk against left-handed reliever James Russell. But against right-handed Anthony Varvaro, Ramos delivered the first run in five innings. Even that early in the morning, Ramos had no trouble staying focused.
“If you want to play, you play 10, 11, 12, 14 innings,” he said. “I love this game. I love this job and I like to play.”
Even at 2 a.m.?
“Yeah, that’s my birthday, too,” said Ramos, who turned 27 in the fifth inning. “That’s a good time. A good gift.”
Ramos lifted a ball to shallow center field that scored Rendon. Frandsen then drilled a ball to deep right field, just over Jason Heyward’s head. Two runs scored easily and, after a replay challenge, Ramos was ruled out at home plate in a close play.
“Two great teams going after each other and just battling the heck out of each other,” Frandsen said. “Both in the same circumstance. Both competed and battled. We battled the heck out of each other.”
For the first five innings of the game, Roark and Braves starter Aaron Harang dueled. The Nationals created a handful of opportunities against Harang but converted so few of them. Harang gave up few hard-hit balls and produced a bunch of lazy flyballs.
The Nationals’ outfield was already depleted entering Saturday’s game as Jayson Werth and Steven Souza Jr. nursed injuries, and the team suffered a further scare in the sixth inning. Harper fouled off a high fastball and then clenched his left thumb, which was surgically repaired and forced him to miss two months earlier this season.
Manager Matt Williams and head trainer Lee Kuntz came out to talk with Harper, who remained in the game. Harper fouled off another pitch and later smacked a single to left field. “It’s fine,” Harper said.
On the mound, Roark provided enough strong pitching to keep the game close. Almost exactly a year ago against Atlanta, Roark made his major league debut. As Saturday bled into Sunday, Roark held the Braves to only one run over seven stout innings.
Roark had the bases loaded in the sixth inning with no outs. Heyward broke his bat but lifted a ball deep enough to center field to even the score. Denard Span’s throw from center was on target but hit the mound. But Roark recovered by striking out Evan Gattis and getting Chris Johnson to ground out.
“Try not to give in in any way,” Roark said. “Keep going at them and keep attacking them and keep making my pitches, and not try to worry that there is bases loaded.”
Roark gave the Nationals one more inning against their most heated division rival. He struck out two in the seventh and walked off the mound, his night complete at 110 pitches.
The Nationals’ bullpen carried the rest of the load. Matt Thornton fired a scoreless eighth inning. Drew Storen pitched out of a small jam — a single, stolen base and intentional walk — by getting B.J. Upton to ground out to end the ninth inning. At 1:34 a.m., Storen walked off the mound and the Nationals were headed to extra innings.
Two innings later, the Nationals would finally pull ahead with a surprising number of fans still in attendance at Turner Field. The Nationals fought long hours, weariness and the Braves to earn a victory. Thankfully, Sunday’s game was scheduled to start until 8 p.m.
“The longer you go, the more you get into shutdown mode,” Williams said. “But they’ve been doing this all year, regardless of situation of game or delays or anything like that, they’re ready to play. So I’m proud of them.”