It wasn’t textbook, but the Braves haven’t won enough lately to care about that. Right now, by any means necessary will do.
After getting another dominant performance from Kris Medlen and an overpowering ninth inning from Craig Kimbrel, the Braves pulled out a 2-1 win against Washington on a walk-off error in the bottom of the ninth Friday night at Turner Field.
Andrelton Simmons and Michael Bourn hit consecutive one-out singles in the ninth, then Tyler Pastornicky’s grounder to brought in the winning run when shortstop Ian Desmond threw wide of the catcher as Simmons slid home.
“Pastornicky was able to make [Desmond] rush,” Bourn said. “With Simmons’ speed, you can’t just play it easy. It was a little bit too his left, and he had to try to make a difficult throw. It got by the catcher and that’s it, we won.”
When Desmond’s throw shot past the catcher, a crowd of 41,797 roared and the Braves tumbled out of the dugout and ran to jump on Pastornicky in a celebration near first base.
“Yeah, just like I hit a homer,” Pastornicky said, smiling. “Oh, man, it’s awesome to get to be a part of that, especially the way this year’s gone for me…. It’s the best adrenaline rush you can get. That’s what we all play for.”
The Braves snapped a three-game skid and won for the sixth time in 16 games against the NL East-leading Nationals. Atlanta has won 20 consecutive games started by Medlen, the longest streak in the majors since the 2001 Yankees won 20 starts in a row by Roger Clemens.
Medlen had a career-high 13 strikeouts in seven innings and allowed five hits, one run and one walk.
“It’s something I’ve taken pride in my entire life, just winning games, winning no matter what,” said Medlen, who got no decision to snap his six-start winning streak, but remained unbeaten in his past 25 starts. “It’s just worked out that way. I don’t know what it is about me on the mound, but I mean, one of my last starts against Florida in 2010, I gave up five in six innings and we still won the game. So it’s not like I’m throwing zeroes up there all the time.
“They go to battle for me because they know I’ll go to battle for them.”
Bryce Harper hit a tying home run off him on the first pitch of the sixth inning and Medlen left with the score 1-1.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked if the team fed off the energy from the crowd.
“I thought they fed off the crowd a little bit, and I thought they fed off of Medlen,” he said. “They really like playing behind him and the way he goes about his business.”
The Braves, after going 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position during the last four games of their just-completed road trip to slip to a major-league-worst .231 in those situations, went 0-for-7 with RISP against the Nationals. And yet they won, not the first time something like that’s happened lately.
“We’ll take it,” said Gonzalez, whose Braves lead the wild-card standings and are a seemingly insurmountable 7-1/2 games behind the Nationals in the division with only 17 games to play. “You know what keep putting people on base and something’s going to break. We got 10 hits today, hit the ball hard, had some people on base. We’ll take it. We had a sac fly RBI by Simmons, whatever it takes.”
The Braves had a 5-1/2-game lead over the Cardinals in the wild-card standings pending the outcome of St. Louis’ late game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When closer Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth on just 10 pitches, it sent a jolt of energy through the dugout and the large crowd, which was on its feet chopping and war-chanting throughout the bottom of the ninth.
Braves pitchers had a season-high 17 strikeouts, also a season-high for Nationals batters.
“God, he was fired up,” Medlen said of Kimbrel. Then he joked, “He saw how many strikeouts I had, and I heard he was a little jealous in the bullpen room.
“I just hope I finish the season with more strikeouts than him. That’s all I want.”
Medlen remained 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA in nine starts since moved from the bullpen July 31. He has allowed one or no runs in eight starts, two runs in the other. The right-hander has 66 strikeouts with eight walks in 62-2/3 innings as a starter.
“I knew I had a bunch of two-strike counts; I didn’t necessarily know it was that many [strikeouts],” Medlen said. “Enough about me. That was a huge win for us, especially against our division rival. A 1-1 game, pitched well from both sides, and our guys battled till the end.”
Freddie Freeman’s recent woes with runners in scoring position continued when he flied out with runners on the corners to end the first inning, and grounded out with two on to end the fifth.
The Braves also wasted a scoring chance after Martin Prado’s one-out double in the third inning. Jason Heyward grounded out and Chipper Jones struck out to strand Prado, who had three of the Braves’ 10 hits.
They took a 1-0 lead in the fourth after Freeman’s leadoff double. Dan Uggla followed with a walk and Simmons, in his third game back from a two-month stint on the disabled list, hit a sacrifice fly to score Freeman. Simmons also had two hits.
The Nationals, after advancing one runner to second base through five innings – on Jayson Werth’s two-out double in the third – tied the score on Harper’s homer. It was the rookie star’s fourth homer in 16 games this season against the Braves.
It was also the second homer off Medlen in an eight-inning span in two starts, after his streak of 52-2/3 homerless innings.
Medlen set a new career high for strikeouts twice in his past three starts, collecting 12 in a five-hit complete game against Colorado on Sept. 3 and topping that Friday. He struck out Jayson Werth to start the game, then after a Harper single up middle, Medlen struck out Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, two of the National League’s hottest hitters of late.
After LaRoche’s leadoff single in the third, Medlen struck out the next three batters, all looking. He also struck out two in the second inning and two in the seventh, when he fanned pinch-hitter Corey Brown with a runner on base to end the inning for his 13th strikeout.
His eight strikeouts looking were the most by a major league pitcher this season and the most by a Brave since Greg Maddux had eight in a 2000 game.
Medlen threw 66 strikes in 96 pitches, and left for pinch-hitter Bourn to lead off the Braves’ seventh. Bourn lined out to left fielder Roger Bernadina, whose sliding catch was a distant second for Bernadina’s best catches of the night.
With the Braves leading 1-0 and a runner at first base in the fifth, Heyward hit a line drive to the left-field wall that Bernandina caught and somehow held onto as he crashed into the padding and fell to the ground.
Medlen is 12-0 with a 2.58 ERA in 23 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season, and 13-0 in 25 starts dating to May 31, 2009, his third major league game. The only other current big-league pitcher to have a streak of more than 20 starts without a loss is Jose Contreras, who’s on the Phillies’ 60-day DL. He went 17-0 in 24 starts for the White Sox over a span in 2005-2006.