Braves 2, Nationals 1
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).