Despite their huge lead in the NL East, the Nationals have had one huge thorn in their side this season: the Atlanta Braves. Over the last two years before Monday night’s game, the Nats had gone 10-22 against the Braves, including a 4-9 mark in 2014. Their difficulty in not even managing an even .500 record against a streaky Atlanta squad was one of the reasons they were unable to overcome a late 2013 deficit in the Wild Card, and has been one of the reasons they haven’t yet put away a club that has had many struggles since the All-Star break. However, on Monday night, the Nats came closer to conquering their bane to their south.
Nats park was absolutely rocking with October-like energy as Doug Fister took the mound last night. Fister, whom the Nats acquired from the Tigers over the offseason specifically for high octane games like this, did not disappoint, firing a scoreless first inning that would have been perfect if not for a a Freddie Freeman grounder to the left side that simply beat the shift.
The offense made sure their huge right hander would not go without support on this night. After Denard Span grounded out to begin the game against lefty Mike Minor, Anthony Rendon hit a sharp grounder up the middle for a one-out base hit. Jayson Werth flew out to former Nat Emilio Bonifacio in center, but NL co-player of the week Adam LaRoche kept the inning alive for Ian Desmond with a well placed single to right center that moved Rendon to third. Desmond followed with a hard line drive to right for an early 1-0 Nats lead and his 82nd RBI of the season.
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After that, a pitcher’s duel commenced between Fister and the 25-year-old Minor. Fister continued to dominate a slumping Atlanta lineup with his fast paced pitching, his heavy sinker and a disappearing changeup. Despite topping out at 89 mph on the night, Fister generated dozens of awkward swings that more often that not, resulted in a ground ball out. On the other side, Minor would keep the Nats off the scoreboard for the next five innings.
Fister remained in control until the seventh inning, when he began to run into trouble. Freeman opened the frame with a walk, and after two hard-hit outs, Tommy La Stella would also walk. It was Fister’s first inning this year with two walks, and at 101 pitches he appeared gassed. Matt Williams began the slow walk out to the mound from the dugout, and the crowd, assuming Fister’s night was over, began to give the righty a standing ovation for his efforts. But, when Williams returned to the dugout, Fister was still on the mound, rubbing up a baseball and preparing for his matchup with Andrelton Simmons. Williams’ faith was rewarded with results, as Fister was able to induce one more ground ball out to end the inning and his night. Cue another standing ovation, as Fister strode off the mound in a professional manner.
Sep 8, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcherDrew Storen
(22) celebrates after earning his third save of the season against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Washington Nationals defeated Atlanta Braves 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The Nats would scratch across another run in the bottom of the inning. Wilson Ramos lead off with a single, and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a line drive double down the left field line. Minor’s night was over, and after another out, Anthony Rendon drove in the Nats’ second run with a fielders choice.
The Braves would get on the board in the eighth on an RBI single by Freeman off of Matt Thornton, and the game was 2-1 in the top of the ninth when newly minted closer Drew Storen jogged in from the bullpen to finish off Atlanta. The inning opened with Chris Johnson. Strikeout. Tommy La Stella followed with a long battle. Strikeout. Last up for the Braves was Andrelton Simmons, and Storen pounded a fastball past him to end the ballgame and shrink the Nats magic number to 12 games. With his effort, Doug Fister moved to 13-6 with a 2.53 ERA, and the Nats record improved to 81-61.
They now have a 99.9% chance of returning to the playoffs after missing them in 2013.