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Nats come up short in taut loss to Braves


Nats come up short in taut loss to Braves

ATLANTA -- There were 41,000 in the stands, scoring opportunities were at a premium, the managers were trying to out-think each other in a late-game chess match and ultimately the outcome was decided by one key moment.

The calendar read Sept. 14. The vibe inside Turner Field felt more like October.

The Nationals can only be thankful the result -- a 2-1 heartbreaking loss to the Braves -- doesn't count as much as some potential future ones might.

"This is playoff baseball," said right fielder Jayson Werth, who certainly has experienced his share over the years. "Every team we play for the rest of the way is in the hunt and hungry, so these are the types of games we're going to play for the
next six weeks. We're going to have some tests, and I think we're up to the
challenge. More times than not, I think we're going to win that game."

The Nationals had every opportunity to win Friday night's taut series opener, getting six strong innings out of Ross Detwiler, Bryce Harper's 19th homer as a 19-year-old and some sterling defensive play from a variety of sources.

But they simply couldn't push across another run against a dominant Atlanta pitching staff that tallied 17 strikeouts, and then with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth they couldn't prevent the winning run from sliding across the plate.

That run scored as a result of an errant throw by Ian Desmond, who after fielding Tyler Pastornicky's bouncer to short made a desperate attempt to nab speedy rookie Andrelton Simmons at the plate. With his infield playing in and runners on the corners, reliever Sean Burnett got exactly what he wanted: a two-hopper to short. Desmond might have used a split-second more to set himself before making the throw but the margin for error was slim from the start.

"If I set, he's already sliding in celebrating," said Desmond, who was charged with an error on the play. "There was a probably 1-in-10 chance, and I didn't get him."

With that do-or-die play, the Nationals dropped the opener of this key series against their lone remaining division rival and saw their lead drop to 7 12 games. There was, however, no sense of dread inside the losing clubhouse, just an acknowledgment that the other guys played a little better and that there will be plenty more games like this before the 2012 season ends.

"You can't really hang your head too much," Werth said. "It was a tight game. Both teams battled, and they were able to push one across at the end. Seemed like they just kinda bled us to death at the end there and got us in a tough spot. ... We got a lot of big games coming the rest of the way. Nothing to be discouraged about."

If anything, the Nationals came out of this one encouraged by the performance of a young pitcher they're going to have to count on down the stretch. With six innings of one-run ball, Detwiler gave him team a chance and lowered his season ERA to 3.16.

That's the exact same ERA Stephen Strasburg had when his season came to an end, having thrown only 8 13 more innings than Detwiler (who ultimately would take Strasburg's spot in the Nationals' playoff rotation).

"Det showed me something," manager Davey Johnson said. "Going out there, he had some hard innings and went back out for the sixth and threw a great game."

The 26-year-old lefty seemed to find himself in trouble just about the entire night, giving up at least one hit in each of his first five innings. But aside from Freddie Freeman's leadoff double in the fourth, none of them came around to score.

It didn't hurt that Detwiler was helped out by his defense, especially Roger Bernadina, who in the fifth slammed into the left-field wall to rob Jason Heyward of what probably would have been an RBI double. Bernadina grabbed his right shoulder afterward and appeared to be in pain, but he remained in the game and said afterward he was fine after sacrificing his body to make one of the best catches of the year.

"You don't think about it," Bernadina said. "You just go on instinct. I know I was pretty close. The only play I could make was to jump to get it. I had to keep us in the game."

At the time of the play, the Nationals trailed 1-0, barely able to put the ball in play against Braves starter Kris Medlen, who struck out a career-high over seven dominant innings. Only Harper enjoyed any real success against him, singling in the first, drawing a walk in the third and then mashing a first-pitch curveball to left in the top of the sixth for the 19th homer of his rookie season.

The Nationals would record only one more hit the rest of the night, a two-out single by Kurt Suzuki in the seventh. They went down in order against lefty Eric O'Flaherty in the eighth, then were blown away by Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, with the Atlanta closer striking out Adam LaRoche, Desmond and Danny Espinosa in succession on only 10 pitches.

All told, the Nationals struck out 17 times. Of the 33 batters they sent to the plate, only 15 managed to put the ball in play.

"Good pitching beats good hitting every day of the week, and Medlen was good
tonight," Werth said. "Hit his spots, kept the ball down, pitched backwards at times and was aggressive in the zone, got strike one and pitched tough."

They may not be overwhelmed by an opposing pitcher quite this much come October, but the Nationals should expect more games like this. Playoff baseball almost always comes down to dominant pitching and the ability to take advantage of what few scoring opportunities you get.

The Nationals didn't have many opportunities Friday night, and they certainly didn't take advantage when they did. They couldn't find fault with much they did over the course of nine innings, yet they didn't win the game.

"No one in here is hanging their head," Desmond said. "More scratching their head than hanging their head, I guess."

Expect plenty more head-scratchers before this whole thing is over.

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Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

NEW YORK -- Gio Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning to win again at Citi Field and the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 3-1 on a drizzly Saturday for their sixth straight victory.

Gonzalez (2-0) gave up two singles in 6 1/3 innings. The lefty improved to 9-1 lifetime on the Mets' home field.

Still missing injured slugger Yoenis Cespedes and other starters, New York has lost seven of eight.

Koda Glover, the fourth Washington pitcher, completed the combined two-hitter by getting the last out for his first big league save.

Jacob deGrom (0-1) struck out 10 and walked six in 5 2/3 innings -- he matched a career high by fanning 13 in his last start. He was supposed to pitch Friday night, but was scratched with a stiff neck after sleeping on it wrong. Mets pitchers fanned 15 in all.

Trea Turner returned to the Nationals' starting lineup from a strained right hamstring and hit an RBI double. A day after being activated from the disabled list, he hustled home on Ryan Zimmerman's single for a 3-0 lead in the fifth. Turner got two hits and reached on an error.

Gonzalez struck out six and walked three in the 10th straight quality start by Washington pitchers. He worked around a pair of walks in the first, then retired 13 batters in a row until walking pinch hitter Jose Reyes to begin the sixth.

Juan Lagares followed with a sharp single up the middle for the Mets' first hit. It was his 15th career hit off Gonzalez, more than anyone's gotten against the lefty.

Asdrubal Cabrera made it 3-1 with an RBI single, but Gonzalez escaped further trouble by striking out Jay Bruce and Neil Walker.

Matt Wieters put Washington ahead with a single in the fourth that scored Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy also tried to scoot home, but the throw beat him by a lot and he did a brief tango on the dirt around the plate before catcher Rene Rivera tagged him.

Murphy singled twice and ended his 0-for-14 skid. Harper, who began the day with a major league-leading .407 average, walked three times and struck out twice.

Both teams made nifty catches.

Left fielder Adam Eaton rushed in for a sliding grab on Rivera's liner in the fifth. The next inning, Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson angled into the alley for a diving, backhand stab on Michael Taylor's drive.


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Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

NEW YORK -- Bryce Harper got off to a loud start, tagging a longtime nemesis. Way later, he enjoyed another trot home.

Harper homered early, then doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning on a bases-loaded walk by Jeurys Familia, sending the Washington Nationals over the ailing New York Mets 4-3 Friday night for their fifth straight win.

"I think every game against them means a lot," Harper said.

This was the first of 19 meetings this season between the teams that have traded the NL East title the last three years.

"That would've been a big win for them," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It didn't take you long to see they were banged up and in trouble.

On a foggy night, Familia again had trouble finding the strike zone. He forced home a run with a walk to Trea Turner as the Mets lost for the sixth time in seven games. New York fell to 1-3 in extra innings early this season.

Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Travis d'Arnaud didn't start for the Mets because of injuries, on the same day they put first baseman Lucas Duda and infielder Wilmer Flores on the disabled list.

Plus, Matt Harvey wound up pitching when scheduled starter Jacob deGrom was scratched with a stiff neck. The Mets employed pitcher Zack Wheeler to pinch hit -- he doubled -- and another starter, Robert Gsellman, to pinch run.

"You've got to play with what you have, and I think we're doing the best we can right now," Harvey said.

Harper hit his seventh homer, lining a two-run drive in the first. He was 1 for 26 in his career against Harvey before connecting.

Did Harper think the law of averages was on his side?

"Never know," he said. "Might get dominated your whole life by one guy."

Harper is doing the dominating now. Bouncing back from a down year, the 2015 NL MVP is 12 for 19 (.632) with five home runs, four doubles and 12 RBIs in his last five games.

Harper used his legs to set up the tiebreaking tally.

The Nationals, the top-hitting team in the major leagues, hadn't gotten a hit since Jose Lobaton's leadoff homer in the fifth when Harper sliced a one-out double in the 11th.

After Daniel Murphy was intentionally walked by Josh Smoker (0-1), Familia relieved. On Thursday night, Familia -- who led the majors with 51 saves last year -- made his season debut after a 15-game domestic violence suspension and labored through 30 pitches, walking two.

This time, he bounced a wild pitch to Anthony Rendon and Harper hustled into third, the safe call standing up on replay. Rendon wound up walking on a full-count pitch and Turner, activated from the disabled list before the game, walked on four pitches.

"This isn't a perfect world where you can pick the perfect spot," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just didn't throw the ball over the plate, which is very uncharacteristic for him."

Enny Romero (1-0) got the win, and Shawn Kelley earned his third save.

Mets leadoff man Michael Conforto homered on Tanner Roark's first pitch of the game. Slumping Curtis Granderson hit an RBI single in the fourth and lined his first homer of the season in the sixth, tying it at 3.

Injured outfielder Jayson Werth sat out for Washington, catcher Matt Wieters got a day off and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman entered in the ninth. Murphy was back in the lineup after missing a game with tightness in his right leg.

Harvey pitched four-hit ball for seven innings. He hit Wilmer Difo, the second batter of the game, in the helmet with a 94 mph fastball. Difo stayed in, and Harper followed with his home run.