Instant analysis: Braves 11, Nats 10

Instant analysis: Braves 11, Nats 10
July 21, 2012, 3:34 am
Share This Post

Game in a nutshell: In the latest installment of "The Biggest Series in Nationals history," the locals got off to a brilliant start they couldn't have scripted any better. Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman launched three-run homers and Steve Lombardozzi added a two-run double that gave the Nats an insurmountable 9-0 lead after five innings, with Stephen Strasburg cruising along on his 24th birthday. Chalk up a huge victory for the Nats ... er, maybe not. Strasburg gave up four runs in the sixth before getting yanked. Drew Storen and Sean Burnett made a mess of the eighth inning, combining to surrender four more runs and give the Braves life. And the Tyler Clippard finished off the meltdown by giving up a two-run triple to Michael Bourn in the top of the ninth that completed the Braves' stunning, 10-run rally. It was the largest blown lead in franchise history, and it left everyone inside Nationals Park stunned and dejected ... er, maybe not.

Danny Espinosa crushed a 1-0 pitch from Craig Kimbrel into the left-field bullpen to bring the Nats back from the dead and force extra innings. But the Braves never let up and pushed across the winning run in the 11th when Zimmerman followed a fantastic pick at third base with a terrible throw to first base and Ian Desmond couldn't make an incredible, over-the-shoulder catch of Paul Janish's blooper. The Nats went down in the bottom of the 11th and wound up suffering a crushing defeat after all.

Hitting highlight: Which three-run blast should we pick: Morse's first-inning bomb or Zimmerman's fourth-inning jack? Let's just talk about both. Morse's was something to behold, a 465-foot moonshot that struck the railing behind the picnic benches in the Red Porch. According to ESPN's Hit Tracker, it was the longest home run in Nationals Park history. Zimmerman's homer wasn't quite as titanic, but it did produce the night's loudest explosion from the crowd of 34,228. And it was merely the latest in a string of big hits from the third baseman, who since receiving his much-ballyhooed cortisone shot on June 24 has nine homers, 25 RBI, a .368 batting average and a .782 slugging percentage.

Pitching lowlight: Take your pick of late-inning relievers. Storen didn't retire either of the two batters he faced in the eighth. Burnett then walked two batters in a row, one with the bases loaded, and gave up a pair of RBI singles. But the biggest meltdown came from Clippard in the ninth. He walked Uggla to start things off, uncorked a wild pitch and then plunked the .118-hitting Janish in the back. That set the stage for Bourn's game-changing triple off the top of the right-field fence. It was Clippard's fourth straight shaky outing, and it's got to leave the Nationals deeply concerned.

Key stat: With an 0-for-5 showing, Bryce Harper saw his batting average fall to .269. That's the lowest it's been since May 25.

Up next: It's going to be a beautiful Saturday in the nation's capital ... so let's play two! Yep, we'll have a day-night doubleheader between the Nats and Braves. Edwin Jackson faces Ben Sheets in the 1:05 p.m. opener, then John Lannan makes his season debut against Randall Delgado in the 7:05 p.m. nightcap.