ATLANTA - We saw another ridiculously entertaining, tight ballgame between the Nationals and Braves tonight, one filled with twists, turns, quirks and plenty of action.
In the end, the Braves picked up a 7-6 walk-off win in the bottom of the 10th, their third win in four Washington-Atlanta games so far this season.
It was a wild ballgame, and a weird one, too.
“Players trying to score from second. Guys running into each other in the middle of the infield. Strange, yeah,” manager Matt Williams said. “But you’ve got to play them. This is baseball. We had a chance, and we’ll take that every day.”
First, an update on Jayson Werth, who left the game in the 10th inning due to what Williams called “a little groin tweak.”
“We decided it was best to get him out of there and re-evaluate tomorrow,” Williams said. “A little bit of tightness.”
The veteran right fielder wasn’t out of the game for long before the Braves walked off a winner. Chris Johnson singled to left off Nats lefty Jerry Blevins with two outs in the 10th, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez brought in Jordan Schafer to pinch-run for Johnson. Blevins threw over to first base three straight times, then delivered a curveball to Justin Upton that was blooped into right.
Bryce Harper - who was moved to right after Werth left the game - couldn’t pick up the spinning bloop cleanly off the turf, and Schafer came all the way around the score.
“They put him in the game to steal second base right there,” Williams said of the speedy Schafer, who was moving on the pitch that Upton blooped into right. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t want to lose Johnson. We just want to try to prevent that as much as possible. And it ended up that the ball he hit, he was going anyway. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
The Nats came back from an early 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the fifth, then knotted the score again in the sixth. In the seventh, Adam LaRoche tried to motor home from second on a wild pitch, only to have Braves right-hander Jordan Walden catch a toss from catcher Evan Gattis and slap a tag on LaRoche right as he neared the plate. It was an incredibly close play, one that was reviewed before the replay umpire confirmed the call on the field that LaRoche was out.
Williams said he didn’t have a problem with LaRoche heading home there, even with Harper up.
“It took a sliding play by Gattis and a perfect throw to the pitcher,” Williams said. “We’re looking to score a run there. The only question I have with it is, can the pitcher actually block the plate? We talk about the catcher all the time. So the question they asked me when I appealed was, ‘Are you appealing him blocking the plate, or are you going to appeal safe or out at the plate?’ I didn’t see him block the plate, but I guess anybody can block the plate.
“But is it official that a pitcher can do that? Is that in the rule book? I don’t know if they’ve talked about that. Anyway, he wasn’t blocking it. I didn’t see him step in front of the plate. So we just appealed the out/safe call.”
My understanding is that no player is allowed to block the plate, but that wasn’t what was challenged, so the umps didn’t need to look to see whether Walden had illegally blocked the plate.
An inning later, Denard Span’s RBI single gave the Nats their first lead of the night, but Tyler Clippard gave the lead back in the bottom-half of the inning when Upton crushed a solo shot to center.
Williams was asked if he’s noticed anything off with Clippard, who has allowed four runs in his first seven appearances this season.
“No, I don’t think so,” Williams said. “He’s our guy. We’re going to put him in there. Every pitcher goes through stretches during the course of a season. I’m confident. He’s confident. And he’s the guy that we’ll go to.”
Add another chapter to this rivalry, one that has been plenty interesting in recent years.
“Sure, it’s important to win games,” Williams said. “Both teams want to win. That’s good. It makes for good baseball. It makes for exciting games. One swing of the bat either way can make the difference. Tonight it was their turn. We’ll come back tomorrow.”