Ivan Rodriguez consoles starter Scott Olsen as he's lifted in the eighth inning. 
Photo by Ian Koski/Nats Daily News

Scott Olsen continued his renaissance Thursday night, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against a struggling Atlanta Braves team that has already been no-hit once this season already.  He did not escape the frame with the no-hitter, or the lead, intact.

But pinch-hitter Willie Harris came through in the bottom of the ninth, delivering a ground ball single past a drawn-in infield, to save the day for the Washington Nationals.

It's bittersweet that Olsen did not figure in the decision, but the Nats will take the 3-2 victory over the Braves any way they can take it.

The win gives the Nats a 15-13 record, good for a second place tie in the National League East.

Olsen's game plan remained the same as his previous two starts, consisting of 13 consecutive scoreless innings:  locate his fastball down and on the corners, and use his plus slider to strike out batters, or induce harmless ground balls. 

He used that formula to stretch his scoreless innings streak to 20, a personal best and team best this season.

Olsen and catcher Pudge Rodriguez carried the game plan to almost perfection, mowing down batter after batter--save for a third inning lead-off walk to outfielder Melky Cabrera--for seven and one-third innings.

"The last three, four ballgames it seems [Olsen] has just been so driven and focused," Manager Jim Riggleman said in his post-game press conference.  "Every pitch it looks like it's the only pitch...I'm going to make this pitch and make it work.  It's a great thing to see."

Olsen started the eighth inning, leading 2-0 on the strength of solo home runs by Rodriguez and Adam Dunn, by striking out Matt Diaz looking.  It was the third time Olsen got Diaz called out on strikes.  The next batter was back-up catcher David Ross, giving all-star Brian McCann a little break from a deep slump he's battling through.

Ross took a ball, then lashed a line drive just past the outstretched glove of shortstop Ian Desmond, who dived full-out, for a clean single to end the no-hit bid.

So the bid for history was over, but there was still a ball game to win.

Photo by Ian Koski/Nats Daily News

Cabrera hit a hard grounder to third that Ryan Zimmerman played cleanly, but then rushed his throw to second base in an effort to turn two.  Instead of an inning ending double play, there were runners on second and first with one out.

Nate McLouth (hitting .187) then singled to right field, but not deep enough to score the run.  The bases were loaded with one out, and pinch-hitter Jason Heyward came to bat trying to break up the shutout.

Olsen's night:  7.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.  He lowered his ERA to 3.54 for the season.

Riggleman called upon Tyler Clippard, who has been close to perfect himself so far this season, to face the Braves rookie hitter.

Clippard quickly got ahead of Heyward with a couple of fastball and a change-up.  But on the fourth pitch, Heyward delivered a sinking liner over shortstop into left field.  Roger Bernadina was caught between charging the ball and potentially over-running it, and he played the ball kind of awkwardly. 

Ross and Cabrera both scored when Bernadina's throw went awry, and McLouth moved up to third on the throw.

Clippard bore down and got a bouncing ground ball to short out of Omar Infante to trigger a 6-4-3 double play to escape any further damage.

Clippard (W, 4-0, 0.42) had his trouble in the top of the ninth as well.  With one out, Chipper Jones walked, and Troy Glaus followed with a grounder to third.  Zimmerman once again threw the ball away into right field, and all hands were safe.

Diaz walked to load the bases with one out, but Clippard again coaxed a ground ball from Ross for an inning ending double play.

Braves relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Peter Moylan didn't record an out in the bottom of the ninth.

O'Flaherty walked Adam Kennedy, which brought in Moylan to face Zimmerman.

Moylan, who surrendered Zimmerman's game-winning home run in the first game in Nationals Park history, started the Nats leader with two balls--not even close to being strikes.  But on his third pitch, Zimmerman drove a high, outside pitch to deep right field, hitting the base of the wall for a stand-up double.

Pinch-hitter Cristian Guzman was walked intentionally to load the bases, and Riggleman went back to his bench for veteran Willie Harris.

Harris, who has struggled to make good contact much of the season, got enough of the second pitch he saw from Moylan to sneak a grounder past second baseman Martin Prado, and Kennedy sauntered home with the winning run.

Photo by Ian Koski/Nats Daily News

The Nats start a three-game series with the Florida Marlins Friday at 7:05 pm.  Craig Stammen (1-1, 6.75) faces Chris Volstad (2-2, 4.45).

NATS NOTES:  Rodriguez' home run was his first of the season.  Nats Park becomes the 34th different big league park Rodriguez has homered in his major league career.

Dunn's home run was his sixth of the year.  He finished 2-for-3 and has brought his batting average up to .245.

Braves starter Tim Hudson had a good outing as well.  He went seven innings, giving up just five hits, including the two solo home runs.  He struck out four and did not walk a batter.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau started the game with the traditional "Let's Play Ball!"  Other D.C. illuminaries were Washington Redskins defensive backs DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers and entertainer Wale.