Nationals vs. Braves: John Lannan’s first hit of season helps his own cause in victory
By Gene Wang,
ATLANTA — One night after their most lopsided loss this season, which included errors from three infielders, the Washington Nationals’ retort featured seamless defense, all the runs they needed in the second inning and just enough pitching — plus a big hit — from starter John Lannan.
The result was a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves before 42,456 at Turner Field on Saturday in a divisional matchup that was halted briefly in the bottom of the eighth when a man wearing a wedding dress jumped into the outfield before security tackled him and escorted him off in handcuffs.
That interlude, however, simply delayed the Nationals in their rise back to .500 as they leveled this series against the National League East foil that dismantled them on Friday, 11-1.
“The character’s unbelievable over here,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “You’re never as bad as you look when you lose, especially when you lose like we did the other day. You just brush it off. You can’t wait for the next day. We played an outstanding game.”
After scoring three times off Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson in the second, the Nationals (47-47) got a two-run homer by Wilson Ramos in the sixth for some insurance in their second game since the all-star break. Lannan was on the mound for two outs following Ramos’s ninth blast of the season before departing with a three-run cushion, having allowed two runs on five hits and four walks in 52 / 3 innings.
The left-hander was pitching for the first time since a line drive off his face on July 8 forced him from his start against Colorado with one out in the fourth inning. Postgame tests revealed a nasal contusion and, according to Lannan, damage to the cartilage on the right side of his nose but, remarkably, no fracture.
That good fortune continued for Lannan against Atlanta at the plate, if not necessarily from the pitching rubber in Saturday’s early going. Entering the game without a hit this season in 32 at-bats and 0 for 37 dating from last year, Lannan came to the plate with bases loaded in the second and delivered a one-out single through the middle of the infield that scored two runs and gave Washington a 3-0 advantage.
“I’ve just been struggling out there,” said Lannan, who matched career highs with two RBI and two hits. “I wasn’t ever a really good hitter, but some days you just get pitches to hit, and I was able to hit them back up the middle.”
Michael Morse had started the inning by ripping a double down the left field line deep into the corner, and after Jayson Werth struck out swinging, Rick Ankiel walked. Ramos drove Hanson’s 0-1 fastball to deep right center, where the ball bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double to bring home Morse for the first run.
Ian Desmond walked on five pitches to fill the bases, and Lannan wasted no time once he got settled into the batter’s box, slapping Hanson’s fastball to the right of second base for his first hit since Sept. 4 of last year and first RBI since Aug. 29.
The Braves countered in the home half of the second with Alex Gonzalez’s two-run homer to left center with two outs.
Freddie Freeman had led off the inning by striking out, and Dan Uggla walked and advanced to second on Jason Heyward’s infield grounder. One batter later, Gonzalez fouled off a fastball for strike one before depositing a change-up into the seats to trim the margin to 3-2.
Following a walk to Wilkin Ramirez, Lannan got out of the inning by striking out Hanson on four pitches.
Atlanta (55-39) got its leadoff hitter on in the third when Jordan Schafer blooped a ball that landed in shallow left for a double. Desmond appeared to have a play on the lazily hit ball that sailed high, but at the last second, he pulled up as Ankiel, charging in from center field, tried unsuccessfully for a diving catch.
But Desmond fielded a grounder from the next hitter, Martin Prado, who had homered one night earlier after missing 31 games with a staph infection, and threw to third where Ryan Zimmerman tagged out a sliding Schafer. Lannan then retired Brian McCann and Freeman consecutively on groundballs to end the threat.
Lannan (6-6) also put the leadoff hitter on base in the next inning, walking Uggla on a 3-2 count, but Zimmerman scooped Heyward’s roller to third and got the force-out at second before Desmond fielded Gonzalez’s ensuing grounder, stepped on second and threw to first to complete the double play.
Upon Lannan’s exit, the bullpen made his performance stand by retiring the final 10 in a row. Ryan Mattheus worked the ensuing 11 / 3 innings, Tyler Clippard logged his major league-leading 24th hold with a perfect eighth, and closer Drew Storen ended the proceedings with his 24th save in 27 chances.