Ian Desmond managed to connect with the first-pitch slider David Aardsma threw him in the bottom of the eleventh last night, sending a walk-off sac fly to left, but he went 0 for 3 with a walk before the sacrifice winner. Desmond and his teammates celebrated the walk-off win in what has now become typical Washington Nationals' style: Gatorade and chocolate syrup, but the 29-year-old shortstop was left with a .137/.169/.192 line in 78 plate appearances this month and a .220/.265/.337 line on the year.
In spite of his struggles, Desmond has continued to grind as he tries to find a way out of what's been a season-long slump at the plate.
"I think he's a pro," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after the Nationals won their fifth straight last night.
"He works and works and works and works and works, and he's told you guys, he's told everybody that he will be okay and he's going to work out of it, so we try to give him a rest when we can, tonight he came up big for us."
"I try to be a professional and handle my business the right way," Desmond told reporters.
"Try to get better every day whether I'm doing well or whether I'm doing terrible. Still try to come to the ballpark and contribute to the team and to win."
While it was a one-man show for most of the night last night, with Jordan Zimmermann battling Atlanta Braves' right-hander Shelby Miller to see who could most-impressively shut the other team's offense down, the Nationals ended up needing an all-around effort to pull off the win.
Zimmermann held the Braves scoreless through seven innings before the Nationals finally got on the board in the bottom of the seventh. Miller walked Denard Span to start the home-half of the frame and Anthony Rendon's single moved Span into scoring position. One out later, Bryce Harper came through with a bloop single to right field that broke up the scoreless tie. 1-0.
Zimmermann finished strong with a quick, 1-2-3 eighth, and the Nationals hit for him in the bottom of the inning when they tried, unsuccessfully, to add an insurance run.
"Good pitchers' duel there," Williams said afterwards.
"[Harper] got the base hit, jam base hit, and put us up a run. Jordan -- we're at that point in the lineup where we've got a guy on second base and Danny [Espinosa] hit a bullet to left, we're trying to score another run, and [Zimmermann is] at 100 [pitches] too, and we've got our closer ready to go, so it didn't work out for Drew [Storen] tonight, but we'll take that situation every single time."
Storen, as Williams mentioned, blew his second save in 23 opportunities this season, giving up back-to-back singles by Nick Markakis and A.J. Pierzynski and after an intentional, base-loading walk to Joey Terdaslovich, a sac fly to center by Kelly Johnson that tied things up at 1-1. An impressive play by Span on the sac fly got the Nationals two outs, however, and Storen stranded the potential go-ahead run at third to send it to extras.
Span caught the sac fly off Johnson's bat in deep center, and knowing he had no chance of a play at the plate or third, fired a strike to second to cut Terdaslovich down for a double play.
"That's just court awareness," Williams said of the smart throw by Span. "Knowing that he doesn't have a shot to third and he's trying to keep the double play in order, we were able to cut him down at second base and get out of that inning with one. Didn't look good there for a while with the bases loaded and nobody out, but it's a big play. That's why he's Gold Glove-caliber out there."
As for Storen's blown save, Williams said the Nationals' closer got beat on his secondary stuff.
"Markakis hit a slider and Pierzynski, the ball he hit in the hole was a changeup, so, you know, for Drew, that's really not his strength, but it's not going to be perfect every time out either."
It was the third outing in seven this month in which Storen, who's been used sparingly over the last few weeks, and has a 6.75 ERA and a .308/.367/.462 line in his last 6 ⅔ IP, has given up a run, though a lot of that damage was done when he came on for some work on the road in Tampa Bay and gave up his first home run of the season, a three-run blast in the Nats' 16-4 blowout win over the Rays.
Williams said after he threw 41 pitches in the last two nights, he'll have to see whether or not Storen is available if he's needed in the series finale with the Braves.
"We'll see how he is tonight, don't know if he'll be in there tomorrow if we have another chance because of working two days in a row and heavy last night, but we'll see how he feels tomorrow and if he's ready to go we're happy to give him the ball in that situation again."