The Washington Nationals suffered their worst loss of the season on Friday night, squandering a nine-run lead against the second-place Braves at a rain soaked Nats park. Washington jumped out to a 9-0 lead but as the rain started to come down, the Braves offense would warm up and chip away against a wild Nationals bullpen. After a back-and-forth ninth inning, Atlanta would score in the 11th to seal a miraculous 11-10 comeback win.
After chasing Stephen Strasburg and making things interesting with a four-run rally in the sixth, the Braves cut the once nine-run deficit to just one with another four-run rally in the eighth. Relievers Drew Storen and Sean Burnett failed to get the job done by doing the one thing you need to avoid while trying to maintain a comfortable lead -- walking the opposing hitters and giving them hope. Storen was making just his second appearance of the season and he lasted only two batters -- a Dan Uggla single that led off the inning and a Paul Janish walk which led to Davey Johnson making the call for Burnett.
Burnett came on and immediately struck out the first two batters he faced. But it quickly went downhill from there. The hard-throwing lefty issued back-to-back walks to Martin Prado and Jason Heyward, the latter a bases-loaded free pass which scored the first run of the inning. Chipper Jones flipped his bat at a Burnett offering that resulted in a softly lined single to left, scoring Janish and Prado to make it 9-7. Freddie Freeman followed that with another single to score Jason Heyward. The rally would end there with Jones stranded on second and the Braves one run short of a miraculous nine-run comeback.
But the Washington bullpen woes were not over. Tyler Clippard has certainly had some issues at the start of the second half and he was wild again on Friday. Clippard issued a leadoff walk to Dan Uggla to put the tying run aboard. Uggla then took second on another pitch from Clippard that was not close and went to backstop. Washington's closer could still not find the zone but instead of sending one to the screen, he hit Janish to put runners at the corners. With one out, Michael Bourn took advantage and completed the nine-run comeback with a triple off the very top of the wall in right-center. The ricochet off the wall allowed Janish to score from first, sliding headfirst just under the tag for the 10-9 lead.
The 10 unanswered runs appeared to be in good hands with the game's best closer, Craig Kimbrel, on the mound. But after Kimbrel blew away Ian Desmond to start the bottom of the ninth, Danny Espinosa stepped in and took a heater the other way into the bullpen to keep the Nats alive and send it to extra innings.
The Braves would not waste the comeback again though, re-taking the lead two innings later in the top of the 11th. It was Uggla once again providing the spark. The Braves second baseman sent a bouncer in the hole to the right side. Ryan Zimmerman snared it but as he twirled around, he threw it well wide of first, allowing Uggla to move to second. He then took third on a pitch that got away from Sandy Leon. The final, decisive winning run would cross on Janish blooper to shallow center that Desmond could not grab over his shoulder. Uggla raced home to make it 11-10.
Washington was unable to answer with another comeback in the bottom of the 11th, as Chad Durbin sent the Nats down in order to clinch it. After an exhausting and wild game that lasted more than four hours and twenty minutes, both teams now come back for a doubleheader on Saturday. Atlanta is 2.5 games back and will give the ball to the newly acquired Ben Sheets in the first game. Edwin Jackson will go for the Nationals.
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