WASHINGTON — At least it took 13 innings for the Washington Nationals to lose to the Atlanta Braves, instead of the usual nine.
The Nationals tied the game with Anthony Rendon’s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth, but the Braves came away with a 6-4 victory in 13 innings Friday night that flip-flopped the standings atop the NL East.
The win moved the Braves back into first place by one-half game and maintained their mastery over their division rivals. Atlanta was struggling before arriving in the nation’s capital this week, but the club is 20-7 vs. Washington since the start of last season, including the first two of this four-game set.
“Two years ago, it seemed like we beat the Braves every time we played them,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “And now the last (2 years) it’s been the other way. I think it’s just one of those things in baseball that goes back and forth. Lately, they’ve just had our number.”
With the Nationals down to their last out, Rendon got every bit of a 98 mph fastball from Craig Kimbrel, the first homer allowed by the Braves closer in 2014.
The umpires initially ruled the hit a double, but a replay review clearly showed the ball striking the top of the barrier next to the visitor’s bullpen beyond the outfield fence.
“This game changes on one swing sometimes,” Washington manager Matt Williams said. “That could’ve been the one swing, but it turns it out it wasn’t. So we have to be ready to go tomorrow and put this one behind us like we always do. We got two more against these guys and a whole bunch of games left. We have to have short memories.”
Evan Gattis, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 19 games, singled in the go-ahead run in the 13th off Jerry Blevins (2-3). Andrelton Simmons followed with an RBI groundout that might have been an inning-ending double play had second baseman Danny Espinosa not bobbled the ball.
To get to that point, the Braves relied on relievers making their major league debuts. Juan Jaime pitched a scoreless 11th inning, and Ryan Buchter handled the 12th. Each allowed a walk but no further damage, and Buchter (1-0) got the win.
“Perfect scenario to bring them in,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said with a smile. “Those are big innings. We always talk when we bring them up, ‘How are you going to use them?’ What’s the situation?’ Well, today was an extra-inning game against your division rival. You’re going to have to use them sooner or later.”
Until Rendon’s homer, the Braves were poised to celebrate another nine-inning edition of continued dominance of the Nationals, this time by two-striking Stephen Strasburg into submission while riding Mike Minor’s 11 strikeouts.
The Braves got nine hits against Strasburg, and six came with two strikes, including every run-producing play: Freddie Freeman’s first-inning home run, Simmons’ fourth-inning RBI single and Jason Heyward’s two-run double in the fifth.
The Braves fouled off pitches and worked the count so successfully that Strasburg had thrown 107 pitches by the time he was pulled after six innings, even though he didn’t walk a batter. He allowed nine hits — tying a career high — and struck out eight.
“I think you can always execute better, but it happens,” Strasburg said. “Sometimes they hit it.”
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