Error in 9th sends Braves over Nationals

ATLANTA (AP) — Kris Medlen has no idea what’s going
on.

The Atlanta Braves aren’t
complaining.

Medlen, who started the season as a
little-known reliever, had a career-high 13 strikeouts and the Braves
pulled out a 2-1 victory over the first-place Washington Nationals when
Andrelton Simmons scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning Friday
night.

While Medlen wasn’t around for the decision —
he was lifted for a pinch hitter after going seven — the Braves kept
alive a remarkable streak. They won for the 20th time in a row when
Medlen is the starter, already a franchise record and the longest streak
in the big leagues since the New York Yankees won 20 consecutive starts
by Roger Clemens in 2001.

“If we keep on winning
when I’m on the mound, then keep running me out there,” said Medlen,
whose streak dates to 2010 (he missed most of last season after elbow
surgery). “It’s just worked out that way. I don’t know what it is. Those
guys go to battle for me because they know I will go to battle for
them.”

Simmons reached on an infield single against
Sean Burnett (1-2) and scurried to third when Michael Bourn lined a
single that dropped in right field. Pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky hit a
one-hop grounder to shortstop Ian Desmond, who had a shot at getting
Simmons but threw wildly to the plate, the ball skipping all the way to
the backstop while the rookie slid across with the winning
run.

“I was just trying to get down the line in case
they tried to turn two,” Pastornicky said. “I didn’t hear anything until
I hit the bag. Then I turned around and saw everyone running toward
me.”

He was pummeled by his teammates during the
celebration.

He didn’t mind a
bit.

“Awesome,” Pastornicky said. “That’s the best
adrenaline rush you can get. That’s what we’re all playing
for.”

The Nationals are one of the NL’s top fielding
teams, but Desmond threw it low and to the left of the plate with the
game on the line. Catcher Kurt Suzuki made a half-hearted stab at it,
knowing he had no chance to make the tag even if he scooped it
up.

“He hit a kind of slow chopper and I’ve got a
prayer with Simmons at third. It was probably a one in 10 chance and I
didn’t get him,” Desmond said. “It was the story of the night: they put
the ball in play.”

Not so for the Nationals, who
fanned 17 times — their most strikeouts in a game this season. Craig
Kimbrel (2-1) earned the win by whiffing the side in the top of the
ninth on 10 pitches — all strikes — though Medlen did most of the
heavy lifting. He allowed only a homer to Bryce Harper as the Braves
snapped a three-game losing streak.

Medlen eclipsed
his previous best for strikeouts set just 11 days earlier when he fanned
12 in a complete-game win over Colorado. In his last two starts at
Turner Field, he has 25 strikeouts in 16 innings and joked that the
hard-throwing Kimbrel — who has a staggering 101 strikeouts in 54 1-3
innings — was trying to follow his lead when he blew away the Nationals
during his lone inning on the mound.

“I’m sure when
he saw all the strikeouts I had, he was getting a little jealous,”
Medlen said with a grin.

Washington’s Ross Detwiler
wasn’t as dominant as Medlen, but the left-hander was just as effective.
He went six innings, allowing seven hits and one run while striking out
five.

Like Medlen, Detwiler didn’t factor in the
decision, missing a chance to become Washington’s fourth 10-win pitcher
along with Gio Gonzalez (19-7), Stephen Strasburg (15-6) and Jordan
Zimmermann (10-8).

“Det pitched a hell of a ball
game. You’ve got to tip your hat to Medlen,” said Washington manager
Davey Johnson, whose team still leads the Braves by a comfortable 7 1/2
games in the NL East and is closing in on clinching at least a wild-card
spot in the playoffs. “We just had a little error at the end.
Otherwise, it looked good. I don’t worry about those mistakes. Our
defense has been outstanding. It’s just tough to lose that
way.”

The Braves broke the scoreless duel in the
fourth. Freddie Freeman led off with a double, Dan Uggla walked and
David Ross grounded into a forceout, moving Freeman to third. The runner
was nearly caught off the bag when Desmond, realizing he would have a
tough time doubling up Ross at first, wheeled and threw back to
third.

Freeman dove back just ahead of the tag, then
scored when Simmons went deep enough to right for a sacrifice
fly.

The 1-0 lead held up the sixth. Harper drove
Medlen’s first pitch into the seats in left-center, an opposite-field
shot for the rookie’s 19th homer of the season.

“I
made a mistake and we paid for it,” Medlen said. “But we came out on top
in the end.”

NOTES:
Simmons was
back in the lineup after missing the final two games of the Milwaukee
series with a sprained right ankle. He took some grounders before
batting practice and declared himself ready to play. … Facing the
left-handed Detwiler, the Braves rested Bourn and C Brian McCann. But
Bourn came on as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, stayed in the game and
played a big role in the win. … The Nationals failed to become the
first Washington team since the AL champion Senators in 1933 to win 90
games in a season. They’ll get another chance Saturday when Edwin
Jackson (9-10) faces Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson (12-8).