GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After heartache last night, would this finally be the night the Nationals would get past that oh-so-pesky roadblock known better as the Atlanta Braves? In a word, yes.
Doug Fister was brilliant, tossing eight scoreless innings in a big-time start by the big right-hander. And the Nationals lineup delivered three clutch hits — two by Anthony Rendon, one by Ryan Zimmerman — to get to Atlanta ace Julio Teheran.
A sellout crowd of 40,677 was able to sit back and enjoy a ballgame between these two teams for once, celebrating only the Nats' eighth win over the Braves in their last 28 encounters. This one was particularly significant, considering the manner in which last night's 13-inning game was lost, and the fact the Nationals are now back in first place in the NL East heading into Sunday afternoon's finale of this big, 4-game showdown.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: As much as they've struggled to score runs against the Braves, the Nationals were going to need to do the little things right tonight. And they did. They scored their first three runs on on three singles, a double, two walks, a sacrifice bunt and ... a balk. Rendon delivered the first RBI single, lacing a base hit to center in the bottom of the third to bring home Jose Lobaton, who pulled off a nice slide to avoid the tag. Then in the sixth, the Nationals took advantage of Teheran's baffling need to keep stepping off the mound. He made an illegal move, got called for the balk, and that ultimately allowed Adam LaRoche to score on Zimmerman's RBI single to center. Then Fister's well-executed sacrifice bunt in the seventh helped set the stage for Rendon's RBI double. As great as 3-run homers are, sometimes you've got to be able to manufacture a run or two. And the Nats did that particularly well tonight.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Talk about coming up big when your team needed it most. Fister was The Man for the Nationals tonight. Calm and collected throughout, he tossed eight shutout innings, scattering five hits and a walk, striking out three and coming up with big pitches the few times he really needed them. Fister again did it all. He fielded his position well. He put down two perfect bunts. He worked fast. He threw strikes. He was, in short, the stopper in a big game.
KEY STAT: Nationals batters have struck out at least seven times in each of their last 10 games.
UP NEXT: This 4-game series wraps up at 1:35 p.m. Sunday when Tanner Roark seeks his seventh win of the season against fellow right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 5-4 with a 4.12 ERA.