Nationals blow largest lead in franchise history

BY foxsports • July 21, 2012

Up by nine runs with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, the Washington Nationals seemed to be in perfect position to take the first of a four-game series with Atlanta and jump another game ahead of the Braves in the standings.

Then everything went wrong. Strasburg gave up four runs in the sixth inning, the Braves scored another four in the eighth and took the lead in the ninth.

Even Danny Espinosa's homer to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth only gave the Nationals a two-inning respite before Paul Janish hit a run-scoring bloop single in the 11th inning to complete the Atlanta Braves' wild 11-10 comeback win Friday night.

It was the Braves' largest comeback since 1987 and pulled them within 2 1/2 games of the Nationals in the National League East. The teams will play three more games this weekend, including a doubleheader Saturday.

''It hurts bad,'' said Nationals closer Tyler Clippard, who had his third blown save. ''We got to win that game, bottom line, and we usually do. Ninety-nine times out of 100 we'll win that game. It was a frustrating loss, but nothing you can do about it. You got to move on. We got three more games against them, two tomorrow. We win these next three games it's a totally different story so we've just got to move forward.''

The nine-run lead was the largest ever given up by the Nationals franchise, including the games played as the Montreal Expos.

''It's one game,'' Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. ''Obviously it's an emotional game for people watching and it gets us a little bit, but in the grand scheme of things it's one game and we show up tomorrow just like we do after every other game.''

Michael Morse and Zimmerman each hit two-out, three-run homers off Braves starter Tommy Hanson, who gave up a season-high eight runs on eight hits.

Morse's fifth homer of the year - a bomb that nearly reached the Red Porch restaurant in the centerfield concourse - came in the first. Zimmerman added his 12th in the fourth, hitting a 3-2 pitch into the left-field seats.

The Nationals scored three more in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk to Strasburg and Steve Lombardozzi's two-run single. Lombardozzi had three hits in the game, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.

Pitching on his 24th birthday, Strasburg held the Braves scoreless through the fifth, when rain started to fall, but seemed to tire in the sixth, giving up four runs, starting with a two-run homer by Brian McCann scored the Braves' first runs with a two-run homer in the sixth.

''I'm always intense out there,'' Strasburg said. ''Obviously you put up a lot of runs early and you just kind of take your mind out of it for a split second and they get back in it and then it gets to be crunch time. It's something that we're going to learn from and we're too good of a team to just roll over.''

Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske narrowly missed another when he hit a double off the top of the wall, and Martin Prado capped the four-run inning with a two-run double off reliever Michael Gonzalez.

The Braves scored four more in the eighth. Drew Storen - pitching for the second day in a row after being activated from the disabled list Thursday - gave up a leadoff single to Uggla and a walk to Janish before being pulled for Sean Burnett.

Burnett struck out the first two batters he faced before walking two, including a bases-loaded walk to Jayson Heyward. Chipper Jones singled home two runs and Freddie Freeman also had a run-scoring single before Burnett got out of the inning, leaving the Nationals a 9-8 lead.

''Arguably the worst game I've ever managed in my life,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ''I've never lost a nine-run lead when it was my part of the game to handle the pitching and it'll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did.''

Clippard came on in the ninth hoping to close the game for the Nationals, but walked leadoff batter Uggla and hit Jarnish, who was squaring to bunt. After pinch-hitter David Ross struck out, Michael Bourn tripled to right field to score both runners.

Craig Kimbrel blew his second save in 30 chances in the bottom of the ninth when Espinosa hit a solo homer into the visitors' bullpen in left-center field to tie the game at 10.

In the top of the 11th, Dan Uggla led off with a single against Tom Gorzelanny (2-2), advanced to second on Ryan Zimmerman's throwing error and then went to third on a passed ball before scoring on Janish's bloop.

''They're a good a team over there,'' Zimmerman said. ''They're going to be there (until) the end so it's just two good teams playing baseball, and it was an exciting game.''

NOTES: Nationals OF Jayson Werth, on the DL with a broken wrist, was scheduled for a rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac on Friday, but Washington manager Davey Johnson said it would be pushed back to Saturday because Werth was feeling some stiffness and a forecast of rain. ... SS Ian Desmond, who has been dealing with a strained oblique muscle, was in the starting lineup for the first time since July 14.