For the 2nd night in a row, it happened again. Despite a blown save from Craig Kimbrel that sent it to extras, the Braves pushed on and eventually won the game (which they never trailed) in the 13th as a go-ahead RBI single from Evan Gattis halped give Atlanta yet another victory over the Washintgon Nationals.
Atlanta kicked off the scoring in the first. After Stephen Strasburg mowed down Tommy La Stella and B.J. Upton, it appeared that he was on his way to doing the same to Freddie Freeman for a quick 1-2-3 inning. In fact, Strasburg began to walk off the mound after what he thought was a 3rd strike on a 1-2 pitch. Instead it was called a ball, and the at-bat continued. That was good for Freeman because he sent the next pitch over the wall in right-center for a solo homer, his 12th Home Run of the season.
After an Ian Desmond homer in the bottom of the 2nd, the game was tied going into the top of the 4th. That changed when a rally started by Jason Heyward culminated with Andrelton Simmons hitting a liner to center to plate Heyward in order to give the Braves the lead again.
Jason Heyward liked this "helping the Braves win" thing so much that he decided to keep on doing it in the next inning. With Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis on 1st and 2nd, Heyward came up to bat and hit a 2-seamer from Strasburg into right field for a double that scored both Gattis and Freeman to make the game 4-1.
It seemed as if the game was on track to end just as 19 of the past 26 had ended: With a Braves victory. Even in the 7th inning, which is when Denard Span hit a triple to score Danny Espinosa to make it 4-2, Mike Minor was able to mitigate the damage to keep the Nationals at bay. At this point, Washington never looked like a threat to take the lead as Mike Minor managed to out-pitch Stephen Strasburg on the night.
Then, the bottom of the 9th happened. The frame began with Craig Kimbrel walking Nate McLouth. No, that wasn't a misprint and it wasn't an optical illusion either, as much as you and I want it to be. Craig Kimbrel walked .179/.290/.241 hitter Nate McLouth. Kimbrel got the next two guys out, but when you walk Nate McLouth, that's called 'tempting fate,' and when you do that, it'll catch up to you eventually. It caught up to Kimbrel in the form of Anthony Rendon, who hit a 98-mph fastball over the fence in left-center field for a 2-out, 2-run homer that tied up the game. Here's footage from noted Braves fan Donald Duck's living room as that sequence played out:
So, the game continued into extras as Mike Minor's excellent performance (7 IP, 11 K, 2 ER) was wasted. This led to 3 pressure-packed innings of scoreless baseball that saw the Major League debuts of both Juan Jaime and Ryan Buchter. You talk about throwing guys into the fire; Having 2 guys make their big league debuts during extra innings in an early battle for 1st place is the definition of throwing guys into the fire. With that being said, they both withstood the heat of the moment and had creditable appearances in their debuts.
Meanwhile, the Nationals turned to Jerry Blevins for relief work for the 12th and 13th inning. Blevins' 1st inning of the night ended with Ramiro Pena hitting a ball that deflected off of Blevins' foot and went straight to Adam LaRoche to end the inning.
In his 2nd inning of relief work, things didn't go so well. It started with a leadoff walk to B.J. Upton. That snowball eventually turned into a 2-run avalanche, and the polar bear who started that avalanche was none other than El Oso Blanco himself, Evan Gattis (who currently has a 19-game hitting streak, to boot). With runners on 1st and 3rd, Gattis hit the second pitch he saw into left field for the go-ahead RBI. Atlanta added another run thanks to Danny Espinosa bobbling what could have been a Double Play ball that was hit by Andrelton Simmons. Instead of being a Double Play, it became an insurance run.
Thanks to Juan Jaime and Ryan Buchter making incident-free appearances, this allowed Jordan Walden to come in for the Braves' 2nd save attempt of the night. His appearance went as smoothly as theirs did, which meant that the Braves locked down win #37 of the season.
Atlanta has now collected 7 wins in 8 tries against the Nationals in 2014, and this was their 20th win in the past 27 games against Washington. Most importantly, the Braves are now back in 1st place and have now guaranteed at least a series split at Nationals Park, and they did so against the 2 best starting pitchers that the Nationals had to offer. It took longer than it should have, but the Braves still can't stop and won't stop beating the Nationals as of late.