WASHINGTON – Long after the Braves had walked off the field dejected by a 5-4 marathon loss in Monday’s series opener at Nationals Park, after Danny Espinosa had scored the winning run and joined the fray of his Washington teammates, the game ball laid there, stuck in the infield grass.
It was right where Braves second baseman Dan Uggla had left it, after fielding and ultimately freezing on the game’s final play.
The Braves had spent the previous four hours and 27 minutes and 13 innings of their longest game of the season rallying. They came back from 4-1 down after the Nationals scored four runs on Tim Hudson in the first inning, and staved off defeat time after time, when it looked like the Nationals had it won against the bullpen.
But somehow the Braves still managed to lose the game in a stunning way, on three balls that never left the infield.
Ian Desmond led off the 13th inning with a single up the middle where neither shortstop Paul Janish or Uggla had a play. Kurt Suzuki followed with a chopper off the plate that bounced over reliever Cristhian Martinez and off the foot of a charging Chipper Jones. While both Jones and Janish attempted to field the ball, Espinosa astutely advanced from first to third before Martinez could get over to cover the base.
From there, Espinosa scored the game-winning run after taking off on a one-out ground ball Chad Tracy hit to Uggla on the edge of the infield grass. Uggla went to his left and his knees to field the ball but he had it securely in his glove, with Espinosa in his sights breaking for the plate. But rather than throwing home, Uggla hesitated.
He eventually dropped the ball, as the Nationals won the game and widened their NL East lead over the Braves to six games with two to play in this series.
“I was going over pretty much every situation that might happen,” Uggla said of the play. “I was like ‘If he hits a ball to my left or hits a ball hard right at me, I can just tag Kurt (Suzuki) and touch first and we can be out of it.’”
When asked if he had to do it over again, Uggla said he would still go for the double play. But with the infield in, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wanted him to go home.
“You can’t go anywhere else but the play at the plate,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t take a chance of turning a double play there and not turning it, and the game’s over.”
Originally the play was ruled an error on Uggla but the official scorer changed it to an infield hit and an RBI for Tracy shortly after the game. It was a confusing all the way around.
“Our pitching did its job,” said Hudson, whose five shutout innings after the first inning were mimicked by six more from the Braves bullpen. “Cristhian did a great job. That last inning was Little League-esque.”
The Braves had rallied to tie it 4-4 in the fifth inning on a two-run home run by Jason Heyward. But they stranded five runners in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and couldn’t drive in Martin Prado despite his leadoff double in the 11th.
The Nationals had put the leadoff man on base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and twice had the go-ahead run on third base with less than two outs. But they came up empty against Hudson, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Then Heyward backed up to the right field fence to catch a pair of flyballs behind Luis Avilan, once in the 10th and once in the 11th, keeping him scoreless in two innings.
“I’m proud of the club,” Gonzalez said. “They came out and they battled for 13 innings. We’ve played some tough ballgames against a very good team and we know we can hang in there. We just need one of those – chopper over the bag or ball over the pitcher’s mound – we need a couple of those and win a ballgame.”
Hudson gave up four runs in the first inning for the third time in his three starts against the Nationals this season. After going 14-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 23 starts against them entering this season, Hudson is 0-2 with a 7.71 in three starts against them this season.
His troubles started a Werth’s leadoff double off Jones’ glove, followed by Bryce Harper’s RBI roller through to left field. With two outs, Desmond hit a two-run home run to put the Nationals up 4-1.
“It was a little fluky I think,” Hudson said. “They get some crazy hits, then it’s a combination of me not making some pitches and then a little bit of luck on their end.”