When Eric Hinske homered for the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the seventh off Washington Nationals reliever Doug Slaten for an insurance run that gave the homestanding Braves a 3-1 lead, it could have spelled doom for the Nats.  And when the Braves went to closer Craig Kimbel in the ninth for the save, it should have been lights out, as the Nationals were winless this season when trailing after eight innings.

Until last night.

Despite striking out the side, Kimbrel also left a couple of pitches up. Base hits by Laynce Nix and Jerry Hairston set the table, and when Alex Cora snuck a ball back through the middle for a two-run single, the Nationals found themselves in a brand new ballgame.

Then, in the top of the eleventh inning, Ian Desmond doubled to left field to drive in two and Jayson Werth followed by pounding a hanging slider into the left field bleachers for his sixth home run of the season.  Just like that, the Nats had taken the first two games of the series from the Braves, lifting their record for the road trip to 4-4 with one game left and evening their season record at 18-18.

Washington is now 5-1 in extra innings this season.

Drew Storen (3-1, 0.44), with a perfect tenth inning, picked up his second win of the week and Tyler Clippard threw a scoreless inning in the eleventh to finish off Atlanta.

Scott Linebrink (0-1), who gave up four earned runs in the last inning, suffered the loss for the Braves.

The Nats offense, which is last in the league in hitting, came alive a little bit, pounding out 13 hits and walking five times.  Cora, Desmond, Werth, Laynce Nix and Jerry Hairston all had multi-hit nights in the effort.  The team still struck out 11 times, but came thought last night in the later innings despite all the Ks.

John Lannan started for the Nats and provided a quality start, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks in six innings, striking out three.  It was a much needed solid performance for the left-hander, and brought his ERA for the season back under five at 4.79.

Todd Coffey, Sean Burnett, Storen and Clippard provided 4 2/3 shutout innings of relief.

The final game of this brutal 10-day, nine game road trip is Thursday night and the Nats now have a chance to make it a winning trip and return to D.C. above .500, something that probably wasn't considered when they dropped the first three games of the trip to the Philadelphia Phillies in no uncertain terms. 

The trip has been a big test for this Nats team, and it says a lot about this group of players that they didn't let that three-game sweep to their most bitter rival snowball into a bigger losing streak.  This team may or may not go on to be competitive the rest of the season, but for now the Nats are staying respectable record-wise despite being at the bottom of the league in offense and missing their best overall player due to injury.
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THE GOOD: Drew Storen.  Completely dominated in his one inning of work.  Laynce Nix went 3-for-5 with three ground ball base hits.  Alex Cora went 2-for-2 as a late inning replacement and made a couple of nifty plays at third base.

THE BAD: Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4 and stranded four runners.

THE UGLY: Doug Slaten. He finally gave up an earned run of his own, the Hinske homer, instead of allowing inherited runners to score.  But his job is to get left-handed batters out, not let them hit home runs like he did against Hinske.

THE STATS: 13 hits, five walks, 11 Ks.  4-for-14 with RISP, 10 LOB, one GIDP. No errors, two DPs.

NEXT GAME: Thursday in Atlanta. Jordan Zimmermann (2-4, 4.10) vs. Derek Lowe (3-3, 3.22)

HARPER WATCH: Bryce Harper went 4-for-5 with a grand slam and five RBIs in Hagerstown's 11-5 win over Delmarva.  For the season, the prodigy is hitting .396/.472/.712/1.184 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs with five steals in 31 games.  He also had an outfield error, his second of the season.

4 comments

  1. Tom Bridge // May 11, 2011 at 11:47 PM  

    Tonight's win marks their second straight road series victory. Last time that happened was 2007 against the Twins and O's.

    In addition, the Nats are 4-1 in games with extra frames.

  2. Dave Nichols // May 11, 2011 at 11:51 PM  

    thanks for the updates Tom.

  3. bdrube // May 12, 2011 at 10:03 AM  

    I guess it is time for us pessimists to admit that this team is not nearly as bad as we feared it might be. They don't win pretty, but they do compete most nights.

    All around baseball you can see that this is the year of pitching and defense. For the Nats the pitching has suprisingly been there all year and now we are starting to see the results of the significant defensive upgrades at 2B, 1B and RF as well.

    And let those who were down on taking a reliever withthe No. 10 pick last year eat (Aaron?) crow as well. Storen is looking like he has the potential to be a absolute BEAST.

  4. Dave Nichols // May 12, 2011 at 10:23 AM  

    bd: I am willing to give the Nats credit for remaining competitive to this point. I'm still have trouble expecting it to continue. The underlying numbers in too many situations right now still lead me to believe things will catch up with them. but Nats fans should be happy they are having some success record-wise.