The Nationals season continued its downward spiral Tuesday night. Gio Gonzalez pitched seven great innings, the Nationals only scored one run against the Braves, and the result was a 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves that puts them 14 ½ games behind the Braves for the division lead.
Gonzales only gave up two runs in his seven innings pitched. He walked one and struck out five. For most teams that would have been good enough to win, but as usual with the Nationals this year, it was not.
The only run the Nationals managed to score off Braves starter Julio Teheran was a home run in the third inning hit by Bryce Harper. Otherwise, the Nationals scattered four hits against Teheran and failed to take advantage of a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the eighth. They left nine on base during the night.
The scoring difference in this game was Teheran’s ability to get down a sacrifice bunt. In the top of the fifth with one out, BJ Upton singled and stole second–or did he? Replays showed he was out, but what mattered was that umpire Adam Hamari called him safe. Andrelton Simmons walked, and Teheran was able to sacrifice the runners with a bunt because there was less than two outs. Evan Gattis then singled to drive in Upton and Simmons. This was another of those small things that did not go the Nationals way that came back to bite them.
The major excitement of this game was a benches clearing situation in the bottom of the fifth. With Anthony Rendon on second after doubling, Gonzalez failed to get a bunt down to advance the runner, in contrast to Teheran’s ability to do just that. Harper came up for the first time since his home run and was drilled in the leg by Teheran.
Harper started walking to first, screaming at Teheran. Brian McCann followed Harper down the line yelling and both benches, including the bullpens, ended up on the field milling around. No punches were thrown and no fights started. Everyone went back to their designated places and the game continued. With one out Ryan Zimmerman flew out to deep center, moving Rendon to third. Jayson Werth flew out to end the inning. If Gonzalez had been able to sacrifice Rendon to third, Zimmerman’s fly ball would have scored him. Again, the little things…
Umpire Joe West warned Gonzalez before the start of sixth that if he hit anyone he would be ejected. There was no room for immediate retaliation. I expect Justin Upton to get hit in Wednesday’s game since he showboated his home run hit in Monday’s game. If it doesn’t happen Wednesday, it will the next time these two teams play a series.
The Nationals had a chance to tie or go ahead in the bottom of the seventh. Luis Avilan, the Braves reliever, was uncharacteristically shaky. He got two quick outs, but then Harper singled. Zimmerman reached on a throwing error and Werth drew a walk. Avilan was feeling the pressure. He went 2-0 on Adam LaRoche. LaRoche then swung at ball three and hit a weak grounder to first to end the Nationals threat.
Once the game got to the ninth, the Nationals had to face uber-closer Craig Kimbrel, who sat down the Nats in order for the save.