The game ended when Doug Slaten, pitching his third inning of relief, allowed a single to right by Brian McCann, scoring Prado from second base. Slaten, a lefty who’s usually a specialist, had previously thrown 62
3 innings all season. He had only pitched two innings in a game four times in his career, never more. With the bullpen ravaged from recent use and shortened by two relievers with questionable pedigrees, though, Manager Jim Riggleman stayed with Slaten.
Burnett’s implosion and Slaten’s bitter end obscured Zimmermann’s dominance. He walked two, allowed five hits and struck out 11 batters in 61
3 innings, the most since June 8, 2010, the day Stephen Strasburg climbed a major league mound for the first time and struck out 14.
“We easily could have walked away from here with a win,” Burnett said. “Zim threw such a good game. It makes me sick to think I blew a four-run lead.”
The Nationals led 5-1 entering the seventh inning, cruising toward a signpost victory. They could have woken up Friday morning with a record above .500 for the first time in 23 days, having swept the Braves and finished a multi-series trip with a winning record for the first time since May 2008.
Zimmermann went out for the seventh inning having thrown 90 pitches and retired the first hitter he faced. He walked Freddie Freeman on a 3-1 slider, which he would later call the pitch he regretted most, and yielded a bloop single to Alex Gonzalez, ending his night and bringing Burnett into the game.
Burnett jumped ahead of the first hitter he faced, Brooks Conrad, with two strikes, only to walk him after what Riggleman thought was an incorrect check-swing call. “That irritates the heck out of me,” he said.
Up came Prado with the bases loaded. Prado fell behind 1-2 and then launched into an epic at-bat. He survived six more pitches, including four two-strike foul balls, until the count ran full.
“I kept making good pitches,” Burnett said. “He kept fighting them off. The one slider I threw him was behind him. I don’t know how the hell he got to it.”
Fans tomahawk-chopped as Burnett steadied on the mound. He fired a sinker that stayed belt-high — “I finally made a mistake,” Burnett said. When Prado crushed it, the stands exploded. A comfortable lead had been erased with one swing, replaced by a tie score.