ATLANTA — Bryce Harper remained in the Atlanta spotlight from the first game of the weekend series, when he was hit by two pitches, to the final pitch of the last game, when he struck out and left the field complaining to an umpire.
There were three one-run games, including two decided in extra innings. There was tension. There was passion from Braves fans, who booed Harper’s every move.
Harper said he had a ball, except for the fact his Nationals lost two of three to the Braves, including a 2-1 loss Sunday when Washington stranded 11 runners.
“I was fine,” Harper said. “I love when the crowd goes crazy or boos me. I live for that situation. I think a lot of guys do. Like the old commercials: I live for this!
“I love these fans. These people, they’re absolutely unbelievably amped up for their team.”
Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 39th save. After Denard Span reached on an infield hit, Kimbrel struck out Anthony Rendon and Harper to end the game. The game ended when third base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled Harper went around on an attempted check swing.
“I think in that situation you can’t really call that,” Harper said. “Especially when the home plate umpire says ‘No’ about three times and doesn’t want to check. They obviously check and they bang me. That’s one less pitch I get to see against him.
“Kimbrel’s a great closer. I think trying to see as many pitches as you can against him is huge. The deeper I get in the count makes me stronger.”
Harper exchanged words with Hudson on the way off the field.
“I just told him how good he was and how good he looked,” Harper said with a laugh.
The Nationals have lost three of four after five straight wins. The Braves stretched their NL East lead over second-place Washington to 15 ½ games.
The Nationals had two baserunners with no outs in each of the first three innings, putting a strain on Julio Teheran’s pitch count. But the young Braves right-hander kept escaping and threw six scoreless innings.
Harper had two hits but said he didn’t come through when he hit a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second with no outs in the first.
“We didn’t get hits,” Harper said. “We didn’t do anything to take advantage of that, myself included. I didn’t have a good first at-bat and I kind of shot us in the foot.”
Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson hit RBI singles off Gio Gonzalez (7-6) in the first. Gonzalez gave up only two hits and no runs in the next six innings.
Jayson Werth’s RBI single in the seventh gave Washington its only run.
Gonzalez said the Braves are finding ways to win this season the way the Nationals did while winning the division in 2012.
“It’s not like they’re destroying us,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not like they’re doing big damage. They’re just playing small ball and they’re finding their hits. That was us last year.”
Both teams exhausted their bullpens in the Nationals’ 8-7 win in 15 innings on Saturday night. The Braves might have been in trouble Sunday if the Nationals could have knocked Teheran out of the game early.
“It’s just maturing,” said Washington manager Davey Johnson of his hitters. “Young guys need to mature as hitters in those situations. (The pitchers) are in the jam. We need to be much more selective then.”
Four Atlanta relievers combined to preserve the win for Teheran (10-6).
There was no sign of the tensions between the teams that began when both benches emptied after Teheran hit Harper in a Braves win at Washington on Aug. 6.
Braves pitchers hit Harper with two pitches in Atlanta’s win on Friday night. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg hit Justin Upton in the first inning on Saturday night and was ejected after throwing two straight pitches behind Andrelton Simmons’ back.
There was no reaction from the umpires or the Nationals on Sunday when Teheran, who often pitches inside, hit Rendon to open the third. Teheran leads the National League with 13 hit batters.
“It’s over with,” Gonzalez said of the tensions. “It’s two boys playing in the sandlot in the schoolyard. It’s over with. I think both teams have respect for each other obviously. There are a lot of good players on that club and we’ve got good players and I don’t see anything going on the rest of the (season).”
NOTES: The start of the game was delayed by rain for 39 minutes. … Werth started following pregame concerns about tightness in his lower back. His seventh-inning single extended his hitting streak to 10 games. … Saturday night’s game lasted 5 hours, 29 minutes, the longest in the Nationals’ nine-year history. … The Nationals open a series at the Cubs on Monday night with RHP Jordan Zimmermann facing RHP Jeff Samardzija.
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