A classic pitching duel between Gio Gonzalez and Tim Hudson led to a confrontation between two bullpens, and the Braves — the team that didn’t need seven innings of relief the night before — out-flanked them.
“Well, that was a tough one,” Manager Davey Johnson said, echoing a familiar refrain. “We had our chances. It’s frustrating.”
Rather than winning their fourth straight game against the Braves, winning the series with a game to go and slashing the NL East lead to 31
2 games, the Nationals absorbed a deflating loss hours after they placed Bryce Harper on the disabled list.
The game ended when Rodriguez, typically too flammable to use any time other than in blowouts, could not hold the Braves in the 10th. Evan Gattis walked on four pitches to lead off the inning. “You can’t walk people,” Johnson said. “He didn’t come close to the first guy.”
The Braves gave Rodriguez an out when Ramiro Pena popped up a sac bunt, and then pinch runner Jordan Schafer stole second with Kurt Suzuki not even bothering to throw.
“In that situation, I focus on the hitter and don’t worry about the runner,” Rodriguez said. “In that situation, tie game, I worry about the hitter. I want to do everything perfect.”
Rodriguez, who was walking an astronomical 7.1 batters per nine innings coming in, walked Dan Uggla, anyway. With one out, Upton flared a single into shallow right field. Roger Bernadina charged and fired an on-target, one-hop throw to the plate. Schafer dove in head first, a tick before Suzuki’s tag. The Braves dog-piled on Upton, a $75 million free agent who had entered the night hitting .145.
“It was right where I wanted it,” Rodriguez said. “He got lucky. He got me.”
The Nationals had lost the game in the ninth.
Kimbrel, dominant against the Nationals, entered to pitch the ninth with the score tied at 1. Ryan Zimmerman’s broken-bat single and Adam LaRoche’s double to the gap put runners on second and third in with no outs. But that was still Kimbrel out on the mound, and that was still the Nationals’ scuffling offense.
“All we had to do was the put the ball in play,” Johnson said. “A little sac fly.”
Kimbrel fed Ian Desmond a slider inside, the best pitch Desmond saw to hit, but the shortstop fouled it off. “He was trying to go the other way, and he jammed himself,” Johnson said. Kimbrel struck out Desmond looking at a 2-2 fastball.