Nationals 5, Braves 4 [13 innings]

Difficult to condense that wild affair into something resembling English. The Nats scored four runs off Atlanta starter Tim Hudson in the first inning, gave up that 4-1 lead by the fifth inning and the two teams spent the rest of the night in a death grip refusing to concede anything. Check out at least some of the details in our game story here.

Credit both bullpens. Washington left seven runners on base between the sixth inning, when Hudson was still in the game, and the 12th. Twice they thought they had a shot at game-winning homers before Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche’s bids pushed right fielder Jason Heyward to the fence before he reached up and snatched them out of the air.

The Braves, meanwhile, stranded nine runners on base during that stretch, including two in the eighth and ninth innings. Nats manager Davey Johnson turned to one reliever after another and they all managed to escape unharmed – Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Mattheus, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Michael Gonzalez and finally Stammen. That was eight shutout innings and by the end starting pitcher Edwin Jackson had gone down to the bullpen to warm up in case Johnson needed to pinch hit for Stammen with a runner in scoring position. Because that was the only way he was coming out of the game before, say, the 15th or 16th inning.

“I wasn’t doing it for heroism. But the bullpen was done,” Jackson said. “It was a game that we could possibly win. It’s definitely a game where they don’t want to throw position players. It’s not a give-away game. So I guess I was the next best option to legitimately have a chance to win.”

Jackson was incredulous reporters even wanted to talk to him afterwards considering he didn’t actually play in the game. Teammate Gio Gonzalez teased him on his way out the door. But it wasn’t far-fetched at that point. In the bottom of the 13th, Ian Desmond led off with a single to center off Braves reliever Cristhian Martinez. Danny Espinosa then botched a bunt attempt and Desmond was forced at second.

He made up for that play when Kurt Suzuki smashed a ball into the dirt. It hopped over several converging infielders, who left third base uncovered. Espinosa realized it and took off, sliding in safely with no throw. That was it for Stammen. Tracy, one of the league’s best pinch hitters, had a chance to win it with one out and Johnson was going to roll the dice. But Tracy’s hard smash at Dan Uggla playing in on the grass at second base gave Atlanta a chance. Uggla dove to knock the ball down and probably could have gotten Espinosa at home, but he realized too late that the runner had a good start.

“Speed on the bases, it kills,” Tracy said. “It makes people panic.”

That left his only option a double play. But Suzuki smartly froze off the bag at first so Uggla couldn’t tag him. To throw the ball quickly to shortstop Paul Janish standing on second base to start a double play that way was a non-starter. In a last-ditch effort Uggla wanted to throw to first and then maybe get a quick tag on Suzuki, but juggled the ball on the transfer as he hopped to his feet and watched helplessly as Espinosa scored.

“It was going to be a tough play for him to get up and try to throw me out,” Espinosa said. “But I thought I had a good chance once I saw him dive. I thought I could beat it.”

And so, after a 56-minute rain delay before the game even began and then another 4 hours, 27 minutes and 13 full innings of baseball the Nats had a crucial win to extend their NL East lead to six games over second-place Atlanta.

“If it swings the other way, sure. You don’t sleep as well tonight,” Tracy said about how whichever team lost that  game would react. “There’s a little more pressure on you [Tuesday]. That’s the way to set the tone for the series. We would have liked to have been out of here in nine innings but hey we’ll take the win.”

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