WASHINGTON -- For 8 1/2 innings, it seemed like the Braves were about to make the National League East race a little more interesting, but the Nationals maintained their division dominance by staging a fierce ninth-inning rally on the way to claiming a 5-4 walk-off win in 10 innings on
WASHINGTON -- For 8 1/2 innings, it seemed like the Braves were about to make the National League East race a little more interesting, but the Nationals maintained their division dominance by staging a fierce ninth-inning rally on the way to claiming a 5-4 walk-off win in 10 innings on Friday night at Nationals Park.
After contributing to the three-run ninth the Nats constructed against Braves closer Jim Johnson, who has blown seven of 26 save opportunities, Daniel Murphy delivered a walk-off single -- and an emphatic bat flip -- against Ian Krol to allow the Nationals to regain a 9 1/2-game division lead over Atlanta. Murphy's single to left field scored Adrian Sanchez, who had started the inning by singling for his first career hit.
"I love comebacks," said Nationals manager Dusty Baker, whose squad has been on the opposite end of those heroics many times this season. "That was probably one of the best comebacks we've had this year."
Braves right-hander R.A. Dickey carried a no-hit bid through five innings and ended up allowing one run over seven innings. Stephen Drew began the bottom of the sixth with a double and scored when Matt Wieters followed with a single. But the Nationals tallied just one other hit against the knuckleballer, who has produced a 1.00 ERA over four starts since allowing a season-high eight earned runs at this same stadium on June 13.
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"Dickey's knuckleball was on tonight, but then they bring in the next guy who's about 20 mph harder than him," Wieters said. "You've gotta speed up the timing a little bit, and it's actually pretty effective when you can have a knuckleball guy be as successful as he was."
Making his final start of the first half and gearing up to possibly serve as the National League's starter in Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer struck out 10 but allowed four earned runs over 7 2/3 innings. His bid to allow two runs or fewer in a ninth consecutive start evaporated when he exited with two on in the eighth and watched Freddie Freeman greet Oliver Perez with a two-run single to left field. Freeman also began the seventh with his first home run since returning from the disabled list on Tuesday.
"We've got to win these kinds of games if we're going to get back in this race," Freeman said. "We played a great game. They just had the right guys at the right time coming up to the plate. They did what they normally do."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Never too late: The Nationals had their way with Johnson in their game-tying, three-run ninth inning. Murphy and Anthony Rendon fueled the rally with consecutive RBI singles before the first out was recorded, then Wieters delivered a game-tying sacrifice fly. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was ejected after Wieters got a favorable ruling on a check swing.
"It's because of how we grind at-bats," Wieters said. "There's not one guy in the lineup that's giving away at-bats. When you do that, you can put together big, long innings and kind of get back in a game or score runs as far as three, four, five runs in an inning. We pride ourselves on being able to grind out at-bats, see pitches, and get on base."
Freddie's ready: After missing seven weeks with a fractured left wrist, Freeman returned to Atlanta's lineup on Tuesday with the benefit of just five plate appearances in Minor League rehab games. There haven't been any signs of rust, as Scherzer was reminded when the Braves slugger turned on a 1-0 slider and sent it into the right-field seats to open the seventh inning. The solo shot, which gave the Braves a 2-1 lead, had a 38-degree launch angle, per Statcast™. It was the first homer Scherzer has allowed since June 16.
Freeman has a 10.13 at-bat/home run ratio. Yankees rookie phenom Aaron Judge leads MLB with a 9.8 ratio.
"I feel good," Freeman said. "I wouldn't have told them to activate me if I didn't feel good. My wrist feels healthy. I feel good at the plate, and I'm seeing everything. So, I was just thankful to get a pitch to hit and get it up over the fence."
"Some breaks just didn't go my way. I threw every pitch with conviction and did everything I could. Obviously, I couldn't stop the bleeding. I couldn't get the big out when I needed. Things kind of snowballed, and I put us in a bad spot." -- Johnson, who has produced a 5.59 ERA within his past 19 appearances
"They're not called the heart of the order for nothing, because that's the life source for you, your heart." -- Baker, on the middle of his order, which began the ninth-inning rally
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Friday marked Scherzer's 60th career double-digit strikeout game, putting him in sole possession of 11th place on the all-time list. He entered the game tied with David Cone. Tom Seaver is next on the list with 70.
Braves:Julio Teheran will take the mound when this four-game series resumes Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. Teheran has a 2.88 ERA through eight road starts. He allowed two runs over seven innings at Nationals Park on June 14.
Nationals:Stephen Strasburg will make his last start before the All-Star Game against the Braves on Saturday. The right-hander threw seven scoreless innings in his previous outing against the Mets. He's 2-0 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts against the Braves this season. Freeman, who's played four games since returning from a broken wrist, is hitting 14-for-38 (.368) with four homers and 13 RBIs in his career off Strasburg.
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Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington and covered the Nationals on Friday.