WASHINGTON – On a night when the Braves tagged Stephen Strasburg for six runs and three homers in the first three innings, the Braves still seemed headed for a loss against the Nationals.
Ah, but it’s hard to overstate how truly bad this Nationals bullpen is, and how much more capable are these Braves of hitting home runs and rallying late than they’ve been in the past couple of seasons.
Tyler Flowers hit a three-run opposite-field homer in the ninth inning, the fifth of the night for the Braves, lifting them to a wild 11-10 win in a series opener at Nationals Park.
“I thought it had a chance,” Flowers said of his fourth homer this season and second off Matt Albers. “I mean, I hit it pretty good, but you never know. I know when other guys hit ‘em, I don’t know when I hit ‘em.”
Matt Adams homered twice for the Braves, the man whose nickname is “Big City” helping the Braves vanquish their three-year curse in the nation’s capital, at least for a night.
After Flowers turned a one-run deficit into an 11-9 lead, Jim Johnson gave up an RBI double to Trea Turner in the ninth before getting Bryce Harper on a fly-out to end the game.
Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp also homered for the Braves — back-to-back jacks in the first inning — and Adams had the fifth multi-homer game of his career and second in less than two weeks. Six of his nine homers have come in his past 11 games.
“We finally have a real first baseman,” joked Kemp, a reference to Adams filling in for Kemp’s friend Freddie Freeman, the star first baseman whose fractured wrist necessitated the astute trade for Adams from St. Louis.
Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz blew two early multi-run leads, but the Braves stormed back against the Nats’ porous pen, with Adams’ leadoff homer in the eighth cutting the lead to 9-7 and Ender Inciarte’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly trimming the deficit to one run before the inning was through.
“The sense in the dugout is, let’s just keep playing,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves snapped a three-game losing streak despite Foltynewicz getting rocked for 11 hits and eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. “I mean, there wasn’t anybody (ticked) off or anything like that. They just kept getting after it.
“Folty had a tough night. I mean, he couldn’t get the ball down and execute pitches very well. But our guys just kept coming, so that’s really good to see. Nobody was panicking or anything like that, they were just kind of taking it one at-bat at a time.”
Albers walked two of the first three batters in the ninth, Markakis and Adams, before Flowers hit a homer that, rather appropriately, landed in the Nationals bullpen. And stunned the Nationals crowd.
“A lot of his hits have been ones to put us ahead or tie the game, like that one tonight,” Snitker said. “That’s a big, strong man right there going the other way.”
It was only the third win for the Braves in their past 26 games at the ballpark on the Anacostia River, an epic stretch of frustration going back to June 21, 2014.
“It was definitely one of those games where you could have rolled over a few times, just as they (Nationals) could have,” Flowers said. “Lot of big hits early and throughout the game. Strasburg, I personally felt like he had really good stuff, to me at least. The other guys did a good job jumping on some mistakes.”
Foltynewicz, who didn’t allow a run in his previous two starts, was staked to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and couldn’t protect it for two innings. He was given a 6-4 lead on Adams’ three-run homer in the third inning, and couldn’t protect that for two innings either.
“I didn’t do my job and (Braves hitters) kept pouring it on,” Foltynewicz said, “so it’s awesome to see the offense do that, and again the bullpen was huge tonight.”
The Braves scored twice as many runs in the first three innings as they scored in three games Saturday and Sunday against the Mets. And they did it against Strasburg, who dominated in his first two starts against the Braves this season and came in with a 7-2 record and 2.80 ERA.
Atlanta got consecutive homers from Markakis and Kemp in the first inning for a 3-0 lead, and Adams homered off Strasburg with two on in the third and added an eighth-inning solo homer off Jacob Turner.
“Wow, (Adams) has been really good.” Snitker said. “He’s getting a chance every day and he’s been big for us.”
Foltynewicz stumbled and the outfield had some ragged moments in a four-run fourth inning, when the Braves starter was replaced after giving up a leadoff homer to Bryce Harper, a single to Daniel Murphy that landed in front of diving center fielder Inciarte, and a fly ball that Inciarte lost in the lights that was scored an RBI double for Adam Lind.
Foltynewicz had allowed just six hits and four walks with 14 strikeouts in 14 scoreless innings over his past two starts before Monday. In the first two innings Monday, he gave up four runs, six hits (two homers) and two walks. Harper’s homer made it a season-high three homers against him.
“I’ve just got to keep the ball down and maybe it doesn’t go as far,” Foltynewicz said. “It was definitely flying a little tonight, but I’ve just got to keep the ball down. Most of my pitches, from the second pitch of the game, were up. Slider wasn’t down, curveball wasn’t down, change-ups were up still.”
Strasburg, too, gave up seven hits, six runs and three homers in five innings, but still was in position to get a win before his bullpen faltered. Strasburg’s 10 strikeouts gave him his 33rd career double-digit strikeout game and fourth this season, including three in as many starts against the Braves this season, all wins for the big right-hander.
Strasburg has 31 strikeouts and three walks in 19 2/3 innings against the Braves this season, and allowed two runs in seven innings in each of the first two.
It was just the second time that Strasburg allowed more than two runs in his past 10 starts against the Braves. He got no decision Monday and is 7-1 with a 3.05 ERA in his past 10 starts against the Braves, with 12 of 20 runs he allowed in that span coming in two games. He’s received 5.5 support runs per nine innings pitched against the Braves in that period.
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