Washington, DC – Trailing by nine runs with Washington ace Stephen Strasburg on the hill, hope was bleak for the Atlanta Braves.
But after 11 innings, 21 runs, two blown saves and one very costly error, Atlanta somehow came out on top, 11-10, in the opener of a four-game series against first-place Washington.
Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn all knocked in two runs for the Braves, who have won two in a row.
On his 24th birthday, Strasburg received a no-decision after another rough outing against the Braves. He gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. In six career starts against Atlanta, Strasburg is 3-3 with a 4.77 earned run average.
Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman knocked in three runs apiece while Steve Lombardozzi drove in a pair for the Nats, who have lost three of their last five.
The blown nine-run lead was the largest in Nationals/Expos history, while the nine-run comeback was the Braves' largest since overcoming a nine-run deficit on June 7, 1987 against the San Diego Padres.
Dan Uggla started the 11th inning with a ground ball to third base. Zimmerman came up with it, then spun and fired wide of first base, allowing Uggla to reach second. Catcher Sandy Leon then allowed a passed ball that put Uggla on third. With a drawn-in infield, Paul Janish blooped a single that just eluded the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond to give the Braves the lead for good.
"When you are down 9-0, you just have to kind of stay focused and grind out your at-bats," Uggla said. "We took advantage of a lot of opportunities tonight and, next thing you know, we're back in it."
Uggla also ignited the Braves' ninth-inning rally to complete their nine-run comeback. Uggla worked a leadoff walk, the Braves' eighth free pass of the night. Tyler Clippard then plunked Paul Janish to put two on with no outs. Two batters later, Michael Bourn slammed a triple high off the fence in right field to give Atlanta a 10-9 lead.
Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out his previous 20 save opportunities, could not protect the Braves' lead. Danny Espinosa crushed a 1-0 fastball over the left field fence to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The home run was only the fifth Kimbrel has allowed in 135 2/3 career innings.
Washington established its large advantage with a pair of two-out rallies in the first and fourth innings to open up a six-run lead.
In the first inning, Zimmerman worked a two-out walk and Adam LaRoche doubled before Morse jumped on an 0-1 fastball and crushed it well over the center field fence.
Washington found some more two-out magic in the fourth when Lombardozzi legged out an infield single to keep the inning alive. After Bryce Harper walked, Zimmerman lined the eighth pitch of his at-bat out to left to give Washington a 6-0 lead.
Braves starter Tommy Hanson came out for the fifth inning, but was pulled after allowing back-to-back singles to begin the frame. Luis Avilan entered and induced a fly out before issuing back-to-back walks to Jesus Flores and Strasburg to force in a run. Lombardozzi dropped a base hit into right-center field to drive in two more runs and give the Nats a nine-run advantage.
"I feel bad," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "The guys played hard. It was arguably the worst game I've ever managed in my life. We lost a nine-run lead it was my part at the end to handle the pitching."
Atlanta put four on the board and chased Strasburg in the sixth inning. Freddie Freeman led off with a single and McCann hit his 15th homer of the year to make it 9-2. After Uggla singled, Eric Hinske hammered a double high off the center field fence to end Strasburg's night. Two batters later, with Michael Gonzalez on the mound, Martin Prado ripped a two-run double off Zimmerman's glove to bring the Braves within five.
Atlanta closed the gap even further with a four-run eighth inning. With two on and two out, Sean Burnett walked Prado and Jason Heyward to force in a run before Jones ripped a two-run single to left. Freeman then stroked a base hit to right, scoring Heyward and making it 9-8 before Burnett escaped the frame.
Eric O'Flaherty (2-0) picked up the win after tossing a scoreless tenth and Tom Gorzelanny (2-2) took the loss after allowing the decisive unearned run in the 11th. Chad Durbin retired the Nationals in order in the 11th to record his first save of the season.
Hanson, who allowed a then-season-high six runs in his last start against the Mets on July 14, was let off the hook after surrendering eight runs in four-plus innings. The Nationals crushed him for eight hits and four walks.
Jones passed George Brett for most all-time RBI by a third baseman with 1,598...Uggla, who went 3-for-4 on the night, improved to 8-for-15 in his career against Strasburg and Heyward picked up a pair of hits and is now 5- for-9 against Strasburg...Zimmerman has nine home runs and 25 RBI in 22 games since June 24...Washington has scored at least five runs in seven of nine games against the Braves this season...When the Nationals have provided Strasburg with two-plus runs of offensive support, Washington is now 20-4...Freeman extended his hitting streak with a 3-for-5 performance...The Braves went 5-for-23 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13...The Nationals went 4-for-11 with RISP and left nine on base.