Number 13 was lucky for Washington Nationals’ closer Tyler Clippard, who escaped a ninth inning jam to record his 13th consecutive save, strengthen his case for making the National League All-Star team, and give his club a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves, win number 44 for the Nationals.
Heading into the home half of the seventh inning, the second place Braves looked like no match for starter Ross Detwiler. Through six innings, Detwiler had shut out Atlanta on two hits. Detwiler had thrown just 74 pitches. He even had an RBI single to give Washington a 1-0 lead, his fourth hit in 60 career at-bats. Another clutch two-out hit by Ian Desmond plated two for a 3-0 lead. Nats’ catcher Jesus Flores added to the lead with a solo home run off of Atlanta starter Randall Delgado.
Apparently cruising with a 4-0 lead, Detwiler retired Matt Diaz to begin the seventh, but then hit Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman on a 1-2 pitch. Next, he failed to cleanly field Jack Wilson‘s bunt and balked the two runners to second and third. Tired in the searing “Hotlanta”heat and humidity and losing composure, Detwiler recovered to retire Atlanta’s lead-off batter Michael Bourn.
With his bullpen depleted from yesterday’s 11-10 extra inning loss to Colorado, Davey Johnson asked Detwiler to get one more batter – rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Ahead in the count 1-2, Detwiler hung a slider that Simmons smashed into the left field bleachers for a game-tying two run homer. More than 32,000 Braves’s fans rejoiced.
Detwiler’s shoulders slumped, his easy win now gone, his teammates let down, his gem to lock down the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation runied. Johnson replaced his dejected starter with Sean Burnett, who struck out Jason Heyward to finally end the inning.
Washington’s lost lead lasted all of one pitch. Michael Morse gave Chad Durbin, a National during spring training before being released and acquired by Atlanta, a taste of “Beast Mode”, launching the game winning hit — an opposite field blast to right-centerfield, his third of the season. The Nats later loaded the bases with two out, but Bryce Harper struck out against Atlanta’s elite set-up man Johnny Venters.
Johnson entrusted the game to closer Tyler Clippard, who uncharacteristically struggled. Freeman led off with a double and Clippard walked Martin Prado with one out. Facing his first jam as a closer, Clippard retired Bourn and Simmons on routine fly outs to earn his 13th save and give Burnett his first win of the season.
Champ of the Game: A three-way tie between Morse, who turned a possible crushing defeat into a satisfying victory with his clutch home run, Burnett, who quashed the Braves’ rally, and Clippard, who remains perfect in the closer role, albeit barely this night. Morse went 4-4 tonight, as he and his teammates knocked out 15 hits. Morse has unleashed the beast with 13 hits in his last 23 at-bats.
For the Braves, Simmons hit a huge home run and saved a run in the top of the seventh by keeping a Roger Bernadina single in the infield, preventing anothe Nats run from scoring.
Chump of the Game: Detwiler, who again let circumstances get the best of him. When all is going well, he looks like a star. When in a jam, he loses confidence and unravels.
Unsung Hero: Rick Ankiel. After Freeman’s double, the first two outs of the innings were hit deep enough to tag up against an outfielder with an even above average arm. Had that occurred, the Braves would have sent the contest to extra innings.
Next Game: Tomorrow, Saturday, June 30, 4:05 p.m. at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Nationls (15-10 so far this month) close out June and enter the dog days of July and August as Stephen Strasburg (9-2, 2.60) faces Mike Minor (3-6, 6.14).