A really long night ends really badly for the Braves

Credit: Mark Bradley

Credit: Mark Bradley

The game began at 10:51 p.m. Saturday, after even the West Coast games had commenced. It followed a rain delay of three hours and 41 minutes, which is about the time it takes the Red Sox and Yankees to play three innings. It ended at 2:29 a.m. Sunday, and it ended the way few games between these teams has ended of late.

For only the 10th time in 35 meetings since Aug. 22, 12012, the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves. This came at a galling moment for the home side, given that the Braves entered the series 4 1/2 games behind the Nats but could have pared the margin to 2 1/2 with one more run in the first 10 innings Saturday-night-into-Sunday-morning. But these were again the Braves we've come to know and not much love, the guys who can pitch but can't really hit.

Nobody scored through five innings. The Nationals took lead in the sixth, only their second of the season at Turner Field. Adam LaRoche, the former Brave whom Bobby Cox called Ol' Rochy, smacked a fat fastball from Aaron Harang over the wall in right field to lead off the sixth. It had been a fine day for Ol' Rochy, seeing as how both of his woodsy buddies -- Willie from "Duck Dynasty" and Chipper Jones of the Double Dime Ranch -- had come to the ballpark.

The lead lasted one-third of an inning. Tanner Roark, who was infinitely better than the much more famous Stephen Strasburg had been the night before, walked Tommy La Stella to open the bottom of the inning. Then Freddie Freeman singled to right. Then Justin Upton walked to load the bases. Then Jason Heyward, celebrating his 25th birthday, lifted a fly ball to center that scored La Stella.

Being the Braves, they managed not to get any more from a hugely promising inning. Evan Gattis struck out. Chris Johnson grounded out. One inning earlier, a Harang bunt had become a deflating double play.

Not that the Nats were seizing every moment. Bryce Harper had done as Bryce Harper often does -- keep both teams in the game. He'd singled twice, but he'd also struck out looking with a man at third and been doubled off first base on a liner gloved by B.J. Upton.

From the seventh through the 10th -- you had to know a game that started at 10:51 would lapse into extra innings -- only one runner advanced into scoring position, that coming in the ninth when the deadline acquisition Emilio Bonifacio stole second after a two-out single. The Nats chose to walk Ramiro Pena, who was hitting .217, to get to B.J. Upton, who was hitting even less and who'd struck out three times. This time Upton put the ball in play, but not so resoundingly as to drive home the game-winner. He grounded to short.

Anthony Rendon and Ol' Rochy led off the 11th with singles to right, whereupon Ian Desmond nearly put the Nationals ahead. He lined a a David Carpenter pitch to left, and only Justin Upton's deft recovery turned what appeared to be an RBI double into a saving out. (All three Braves outfielders made nice catches this long night.)

Then James Russell, the get-out-the-lefty left-hander who arrived in tandem with Bonifacio, was summoned to face Harper. Credit where it's due: The often-overzealous Harper drew a five-pitch walk, loading the bases with one out. That was all for Russell, who was replaced by Anthony Varvaro. Wilson Ramos slapped Varvaro's first pitch into center field to put the Nats ahead 2-1 with the bases still full, and then Kevin Frandsen sliced a double beyond Heyward's reach to score two more.

Thus was the Nats' division lead restored to 4 1/2 games, which was a big deal. Had this excruciating game gone the other way, they'd have reported for work Sunday facing the real possibility of being swept here for the second time this season. Sunday's Nats starter will be Gio Gonzalez, and the Braves are undefeated in the past seven games started by Gonzalez dating to September 2012. The best the Braves can do now is end the weekend 3 1/2 games back, which beats losing ground but wasn't quite what they had in mind.

From myajc.com: Are the Braves chasing the Nats, or vice versa?