Ian Desmond helps lift Washington Nationals over Atlanta Braves, 4-2

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 1:18 AM

Years from now, when the Atlanta Braves think about the 2010 National League East pennant flying high above some other team's stadium, they will curse these Washington Nationals. Parachuting into the Braves' playoff race this weekend, the Nationals continued their season-long assault on their postseason chances.

From their last-place bunker, the Nationals lobbed one more grenade at the Braves on Sunday afternoon, a 4-2 victory before 21,625 at Nationals Park. In one of the Braves' most important games, the Nationals delivered the clutch performances: Ian Desmond's two-out, two-run, game-winning single in the seventh; Sean Burnett's six consecutive, crucial outs in relief; Livan Hernandez's latest quality start, which included his 200th inning of the year.

The victory, completed hours after the Nationals presented Bobby Cox a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol, stunted the Braves' mission of sending Cox to the playoffs one last time. It also gave the Nationals a 10-8 final margin in the season series.

"It's huge," Burnett said. "Eventually, it's the next couple years, that's a team we have to beat to get to the top. They've got everything to play for. They've got their season on the line. You're going to get their best shot. And we got two out of three from them. That's a pretty good confidence builder."

If you want to know the difference between first place and last place in the NL East this year, the Nationals are a good place to start. The Phillies have customarily thumped the Nationals, winning 10 of 15 games. Games played against the Nationals make up 31/2 of the six-game difference between the Braves and the Phillies.

The most obvious hero of the game was Desmond, who finished off a rally the Braves' bullpen handed the Nationals. With two outs in the seventh, the scored tied at 2, Kyle Farnsworth walked Willie Harris and Danny Espinosa. Left-hander Jonny Venters replaced him and promptly walked Nyjer Morgan, loading the bases.

Up came Desmond, batting third while Ryan Zimmerman sat out with an injury for the fourth straight game. Venters threw him two balls, and Desmond thought back to Saturday, when Venters walked him to pitch to Adam Dunn. Even though a walk would have forced in the go-ahead run, Desmond wanted to avoid the lefty-lefty match between Dunn and Venters. "I really didn't want to walk there," Desmond said.

He focused instead on hitting the ball back up the middle. He swung and missed at ball three, a pitch at his ankles. Venters threw a fourth straight sinker on 2-1, and Desmond pounded it into center field on two bounces to score Harris and Espinosa.

In Philadelphia, where the Phillies would clinch the NL East with a win and a Braves loss, fans started cheering and waving towels. In Washington, out in the bullpen, Nationals relievers began talking about how Burnett could get his first win.

"We didn't want to jinx it," Drew Storen said. "But we were like, 'He needs to get one.' "

In the top of the seventh, Burnett had replaced Hernandez with no outs, after Rick Ankiel had driven in the tying run with a double. Burnett wanted to keep him. "I take pride," he said, "in trying to keep other guys' runs from scoring."

For the next six batters, Burnett cleaned house. He struck out pinch-hitter Matt Diaz on three pitches, then sat down Omar Infante flailing at a 91-mph sinker for the second out. Jason Heyward grounded to first, stranding the go-ahead run on base. After Desmond gave him the lead, Burnett went back to work, retiring the Braves' 3-4-5 hitters in order, striking out pinch-hitter Derek Lee to end the eighth.

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