Game in a nutshell: In the opener of a weekend series that could decide whether the Nationals run away with the NL East or whether the Braves make this thing interesting again, a big crowd at Turner Field was treated to a well-played, well-pitched ballgame that had a playoff feel to it. Ross Detwiler churned out six innings of one-run ball, pitching his way out of some jams.
Kris Medlen, meanwhile, blew away the Nationals lineup, striking out 13 over seven spectacular innings. Bryce Harper finally broke through against the fast-emerging ace of the Atlanta staff, clubbing a solo homer to left in the sixth inning to knot the game up 1-1. It remained that way until the bottom of the ninth, when the Braves got a couple of one-out singles off Sean Burnett, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Burnett got pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky to hit a sharp grounder to short, and Ian Desmond had a play at the plate. But Desmond's throw sailed way wide, and Andrelton Simmons slid across with the winning run, dropping the Nats' lead in the NL East to 7 12 games.
Hitting highlight: They didn't do much of anything at the plate against Medlen and the Braves bullpen, but Harper's performance certainly stood out. He singled in the first inning, drew a walk in the third and then belted the first pitch he saw in the top of the sixth to left field for a solo homer.
That was Harper's 19th of the season (second-most ever by a teenager, trailing only Tony Conigliaro's 24) and his seventh over his last 20 games. During that span, Harper is also hitting .360, raising his season average up to .266. This surge may just be getting the 19-year-old back into the NL Rookie of the Year race.
Pitching highlight: He wasn't as dominant as Medlen -- that would've been difficult to pull off -- but Detwiler was just as effective. He attacked the strike zone from the start, made some big pitches when he had to and was helped by some stellar defense behind him (especially Roger Bernadina in left field).
In the end, he gave the Nationals exactly what they needed: a big-time outing in a big game. If this was a preliminary test for Detwiler in advance of a potential postseason start, he passed with flying colors.
Key stat: Ryan Zimmerman failed to drive in a run tonight, snapping his streak of consecutive games with at least one RBI at nine (a franchise record).
Up next: The series continues at 4:05 p.m. Saturday when Edwin Jackson takes the mound in his hometown, facing right-hander Tommy Hanson. Fox will televise the game to a regional audience.