Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Gio Gonzalez seeks win No. 20 tonight at Turner Field.
ESPN gets a good one tonight, with the Braves trying to sweep the series and pull within 5 1/2 games of the NL East lead. The Nationals, of course, came to town knowing they just needed to win once to keep the lead at a comfortable 7 1/2 games, so now the pressure's on them to salvage tonight's finale.
Davey Johnson will send his de facto ace to the mound in Gio Gonzalez, seeking to become the first 20-game winner in the majors this season and boost his increasing Cy Young Award hopes. He'll be opposed by fellow left-hander Mike Minor, who owns a 4.42 ERA for the season but hasn't given up a run in his last 12 2/3 innings.
Plenty of updates to come live from Turner Field...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 8:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: WWXT (92.7 FM), WWXX (94.3 FM), WJFK (106.7 FM), WTEM (980 AM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 89
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 83 degrees, Wind 4 mph out to LF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
LF Tyler Moore
C Kurt Suzuki
LHP Gio Gonzalez
CF Michael Bourn
LF Reed Johnson
RF Jason Heyward
3B Chipper Jones
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
C David Ross
SS Andrelton Simmons
LHP Mike Minor
HP Marvin Hudson
1B Tim Timmons
2B Fieldin Culbreth (cc)
3B Marty Foster
8:07 p.m. -- And we're underway as Jayson Werth breaks form and hacks at the first pitch of the game, flying out to left.
8:12 p.m. -- A pretty quick top of the first for Mike Minor. He allowed a two-out single to Ryan Zimmerman, who stroked a line drive to right field, but got Adam LaRoche to fly out to end the inning. Onto the bottom of the first.
8:26 p.m. -- Gio Gonzalez didn't give up a run in the bottom of the first, but the Braves sure made him work: 21 total pitches, including 10 during a long at-bat by Reed Johnson (ending in a flyout). Chipper Jones, meanwhile, got a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate for the first time tonight. The last time I remember any player getting this kind of love every time he moved was Cal Ripken during his final weeks with the Orioles in 2001. Remarkable.
8:33 p.m. -- On the bright side, Danny Espinosa managed to put the ball in play in the top of the second. He popped up to first base. Thus ended his streak of eight consecutive strikeouts in this series.
8:37 p.m. -- More good news: Because the Cardinals-Dodgers game ended in anything other than a tie -- St. Louis won in 12 innings -- the Nats' magic number to clinch a playoff berth is now down to 3.
8:50 p.m. -- Two scoreless innings for Gio, but he's already up to 50 pitches as the Braves keep fouling off whatever he throws up there. 0-0 as we move to the third.
9:19 p.m. -- And after 83 pitches, Gio Gonzalez has finally completed the third inning. Boy, are the Braves working him or what. He went to a three-ball count on eight of the first 14 batters he faced, and finally was scored upon twice in the bottom of the third, with Chipper Jones working the count full before lacing an RBI single to left-center. Freddie Freeman then worked the count full himself and lofted a sac fly to left, making it 2-0 as we move to the fourth.
9:28 p.m. -- Oof, just when it looked like the Nats might have something cooking in the top of the fourth, with two on and one out, Espinosa grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch he saw to end the inning. The two hitting strategies tonight could not be more disparate. The Braves' strategy against Gio: Make him work. The Nats' strategy against Minor: Try to pounce on him early. Which one seems to be working so far? Still 2-0 Atlanta moving to the bottom of the fourth.
9:49 p.m. -- What a recovery by Gio. After throwing 83 pitches through the first three innings, he needed only 20 to get through the next two. You have to assume that'll be it for him, and this won't go down as a quality start by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a pretty gutty effort from the left-hander, who winds up allowing two runs on three hits and keeping his team in this game. Still 2-0 as we go to the sixth.
10:03 p.m. -- The Nats get on the board at last. Harper leads off the top of the sixth with a double to deep left-center. It looked like he really wanted to go for three but was forced to hold at second after the ball bounced over the fence. No worries because Desmond roped a two-out, two-strike base hit to center to bring home the Nats' first run of the night. Ian did then get picked off first base to end the inning, but it's now a 2-1 Braves lead as Gio retakes the mound for the bottom of the sixth sitting on 103 pitches and with a steady rain now falling.
10:19 p.m. -- That may have been a bad idea to let Gio come back for the sixth. He immediately walked Chipper, then served up a towering, 390-foot double to Freeman. With the right-handed Uggla due-up, Dave Johnson decided to bring out the hook right then and summon Craig Stammen to try to pitch out of the mess. Which he somehow did. Despite falling behind 3-0 to Uggla, Stammen induced a pop-up for the first out. He then struck out Ross and got Simmons to ground out. So remarkably it's still 2-1 Atlanta as we go to the seventh and the grounds crew comes out to clean up the infield and mound as the rain intensifies.
10:50 p.m. -- The bullpen walked the tightrope again in the bottom of the seventh and paid the price for it. After Stammen issued a walk and Zimmerman was charged with an error on a chopper to third, Sean Burnett entered in a big spot: runners on the corners, 1 out, Heyward at the plate. He got a sharp grounder to first, at which point LaRoche had to make a decision. He ultimately chose to step on first and try to nab Bourn at the plate, but his throw was a bit wide and Suzuki couldn't make the tag. Should LaRoche have tried a 3-6-3 double play instead? I'm not so sure they could've turned it. That play loomed even larger shortly after when Burnett plunked Freeman and then served up a two-run single to Uggla. All of a sudden, it's 5-1 Atlanta and the Nats are six outs from being swept in this series.
10:57 p.m. -- Three outs from getting swept now.
11:04 p.m. -- OK, last chance for the Nats. They trail by four in the ninth. It'll be Zimmerman, LaRoche and Desmond against Chad Durbin.
11:12 p.m. -- That'll do it. The Nats fall 5-1 and get swept in the series. What was an 8 1/2-game lead when they arrived in town has turned into a 5 1/2-game lead as they leave town.