The Nationals played the third game of the Atlanta series hoping that Gio Gonzalez could be the first pitcher in the National League to win twenty games this year, especially since a win for Gio would avoid the Nats being swept by Atlanta. No one’s hopes were realized, as Gio labored through five innings and the Nats played a listless, sloppy game to fall to Atlanta 5-1.
Mike Minor pitched a good game for the Braves, allowing one run in six innings of work. The Braves bullpen shut down the Nats the rest of the way without using Venters or Kimbrel. Gonzales only allowed two runs, but the Nats bullpen could not hold down Atlanta, who scored three runs after Gio’s exit.
Gonzalez went to long counts on almost every batter he faced in the first three innings. The Braves hitters worked many counts to 3-2, fouling off pitches and refusing to bite on any pitch that was outside the zone. The Braves broke through in the bottom of the third. Michael Bourne drew a walk, and moved to third on Jason Heyward’s single. Chipper Jones singled Bourne home, and Heyward moved to third. Freddy Freeman hit a sacrifice fly, and the Braves led 2-0.
The Nationals finally broke through in the top of the sixth inning. Harper smoked a ground rule double deep to the outfield to lead off the inning. After Ryan Zimmerman struck out and Adam LaRoche grounded out, Ian Desmond came through with an RBI single, plating Harper. With Espinosa batting, Desmond attempted to steal second and was thrown out by a wide margin, ending the opportunity to score more runs in the last inning Minor pitched.
Gio Gonzalez started the bottom of the sixth, but was chased out of the game after a lead off walk to Jones and a double by Freeman. Craig Stammen came in from the bullpen to put out the fire and pitched the Nats out of the jam, allowing no inherited runners to score and getting out of the inning unscathed. The score at that point was Braves 2-Nats 1 and both teams were now into their bullpens.
The Nats and Davey Johnson lost this game in the bottom of the seventh. Stammen got pinch hitter Eric Hinske for the first out, but walked Bourne. Reed Johnson hit a ground ball to Ryan Zimmerman, which took a hop Zim was not expecting. The ball rolled up his arm and went out of his sightline. Ryan lost track of the ball, and by the time he found it Bourne was standing on third. Instead of being out of the inning, the Nats had to deal with runners on second and third and one out. Johnson elected to bring in Sean Burnett to face the lefty Jason Heyward. Burnett induced a ground ball toward first. LaRoche fielded the ball and stepped on first. Bourne was coming home and LaRoche threw to the plate. Unfortunately the throw was way off line and by the time Kurt Suzuki corralled it, Bourne had scored. A better throw would have gotten Bourne to end the inning without giving up any more runs. Burnett walked Jones on an unintentional-intentional, and then hit Freeman with a pitch that went way inside. The bases were loaded and Dan Uggla, who bats right, came to the plate. Johnson had no one warming in the bullpen, and Burnet had to pitch to the right hander. Nats fans knew this could get ugly, and it did. Uggla laced a ball to left field, scoring two. Mercifully for the Nats, Freeman tried to go first to third and was thrown out at third base to end the inning.
The score was Braves 5, Nationals 1 at the top of the eighth inning, and that was where it stayed. Drew Storen came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth and looked terrific in setting down the Braves in order. There was no miracle comeback for the Nats in the ninth, and Atlanta took the series sweep, cutting the Nationals lead to 5 ½ games over Atlanta in the division race.
Champ of the Game: Craig Stammen came into the fifth inning with two on and shut the Braves down. He deserved better than the error by Zimmerman that chased him from the game. Stammen gave up no runs in an inning and a third of work.
Michael Bourne proved yet again that when he gets on base, the Braves score runs. Bourne drew two walks and hit a single, getting on three times to give the Nats fits. He manufactured two of Atlanta’s runs with his speed and distracted Nats pitchers every time he was on base.
Chump of the Game: For the Nats there are lots of candidates. The entire team, except for Harper, failed to contribute at the plate and made mistakes that cost the Nats dearly. This loss was a team effort, so the team gets the Chump of the Game award.
Reed Johnson went 0-4 for the Braves and only got on base due to Zimmerman’s error. Not the kind of production you want from your number two hitter in the lineup.
Unsung Hero: Drew Storen pitched a one-two-three eighth inning in a game that was lost before he took the mound, but he brought his A game to his outing.
For the Braves, Freddy Freeman had a nice performance. He was stranded after hitting a double off Gonzalez in the sixth, and had a sacrifice fly to score a run in the third.
Next Game: Tuesday, September 18th at Nationals Park, 7:05 p.m. start. The Nationals open a three game series against the LA Dodgers. Jordan Zimmerman (10-8, 3.01 ERA) squares off against Aaron Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA).