Despite a thrilling, extra-inning win against the Braves Saturday night, the Nationals were unable to notch their first series win of the season against their rivals from the south as they fell to the Braves Sunday night at Turner Field. The game remained close most of the night, but a costly mistake from Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez gave Atlanta the lead for good.
With two outs, runners at the corners and the game tied at one in the bottom of the fifth inning, Braves outfielder Jayson Heyward hit a sharp but routine ground ball to the right side of the infield. After Adam LaRoche was unable to get to the ball, Danny Espinosa fielded it cleanly, but when he looked towards first base to throw Heyward out, nobody was covering and Heyward was safe, allowing the runner to score from third.
There’s no doubt that Gonzalez should have been covering first on that play and he did run towards the bag as soon as the ball was hit, but he stopped along the way. After realizing he should have been covering, the left-hander once again darted for the bag, but it was too late. Call it a brain fart, call it a lack of communication. Whatever you want to call it, it was a mistake that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead and set the tone for the rest of the night.
It was an unfortunate way to end the night for Gonzalez as the left-hander had pitched well — albeit, inefficiently — early on. Through his first four innings of work, Gonzalez had allowed just one run on a solo shot from Justin Upton while striking out eight. But the Braves worked Gonzalez’s pitch count all night and the left-hander was taken out after throwing 111 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings.
While Gonzalez was shaky on the mound, the Nationals weren’t able to do much of anything at the plate against Braves starter Alex Wood. Wood dominated the offense all night, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out 12 over 7 1/3 innings of work.
The Nationals’ lone run came in the top of the fourth, when Ian Desmond‘s 19th home run of the season gave Washington a short-lived 1-0 lead.
After the Braves added one more run on an RBI single by Evan Gattis in the bottom of the eight, Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel shut the Nationals down in order in the ninth, sealing a 3-1 victory for the home team.
Despite having a decent lead over the Braves in the NL East, the Nationals have struggled mightily against Atlanta all season, as the Braves have won nine of the 13 games the teams have played against each other in 2014. They’ll play each other six more times before October — three games in Washington and three more in Atlanta — all in mid-September.
With tonight’s loss, the Nationals’ are now 63-53 on the season and lead the Braves by 3 1/2 games in the NL East.
Next Game: After a much-needed off off day on Monday, Doug Fister (11-3, 2.49 ERA) and the Nationals start a three-game set against the Mets Tuesday night at Citi Field.