The Nationals left the field spent, not discouraged. “No one in here is hanging their head,” Desmond said. “More scratching their head than anything.” They had played a knock-out, drag-out, whale of a game, and they knew more like it would be coming.
“This is playoff baseball,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “Every team we play the rest of the way is in the hunt and hungry. These are the type of games we’re going to play for the next six weeks.”
The Nationals’ loss did little to endanger their chances to win the East. They still own a commanding edge, down from 81
2 games to 71
2, with 18 to play. “You play all season to build up that lead,” Werth said. They have two more chances to stifle the second-place Braves’ hopes this weekend. The Nationals could squander the division only by making a special kind of mess.
But if these teams meet again in October, in a playoff series short enough for one pitcher to take by the throat, they will know the Braves have one capable. The Nationals — Bryce Harper excepted — will need to figure out a way to beat Kris Medlen.
Friday night, Medlen dueled Ross Detwiler and, for the second time in a month, left the Nationals mystified by his sinking, cutting array of pitches. On Aug. 22 at Nationals Park, he held Washington scoreless for seven innings. Friday night, he may have been even better. Medlen struck out 13 in seven innings while allowing five hits and a walk. His eight looking strikeouts were the most by any pitcher in a game this season.
Only Harper’s home run in the sixth inning, a rope into the left field seats, tied the game and kept it making knuckles white into the ninth inning.
The ninth started with the final managerial gambit in a night packed with them. Drew Storen had ended the eighth inning, and he stood on the mound to start the ninth. When Braves Manaer Fredi Gonzalez sent left-hander Lyle Overbay to pinch-hit, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson responded by calling on Sean Burnett.
Burnett recorded the first out on a marvelous play by Desmond, who ranged deep into the hole and made a leaping, off-balance throw to first. From there, “they kind of bled us to death,” Werth said.
Simmons rolled a groundball single to Desmond. Michael Bourn, an in-game replacement, smoked a single to right, sending Simmons to third. The Nationals drew in the infield, and pinch hitter Tyler Pastornicky hit a grounder to Desmond. Simmons sprinted on contact.