WASHINGTON – Whether he’s playing first base or third base, the Braves’ Freddie Freeman does one thing like most major leaguers only wish they could do. He hits baseballs a long way. And he’ll hit them the other way through the infield, too.
The man just hits. A lot.
Unfortunately for the Braves, Freeman can’t close games. So after he homered and drove in three runs and helped the Braves to a 4-1 lead, he couldn’t prevent Jim Johnson from giving up three runs in the ninth inning or help Ian Krol stem the tide in the 10th, when the Nationals completed their comeback with Daniel Murphy’s one-out single that gave them a 5-4 walk-off win against the Braves.
“We’ve got to win these kind of games if we’re going to get back into this race,” said Freeman, who hit his 15th home run and first in four games since returning from a seven-week absence for a fractured wrist. “We played a great game, they just had the right guys at the right time coming up to the plate and they did what they normally do.
“They got hits, they got guys on, they moved them over, they got them in, put great at-bats up in the ninth inning. They never quit.”
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Johnson was saddled with his seventh blown save to tie him for the major league lead in that category and deny R.A. Dickey a win on a night when the Braves knuckleballer was dominant. The Braves closer has two blown saves in his past three appearances and has allowed at least one hit in eight of his past nine appearances, including four hits, three runs and a walk in two-thirds of an inning Friday.
“Trust me I’d like to be a lot more consistent,” Johnson said. “Just kind of go back, get some sleep and look at it tomorrow, with fresh eyes and unbiased, make the changes I need to make and adjustments I need to make. I’ve had bad stretches before and been in funks before. It’s not like I’m not healthy or anything like that. Like last year, I was fighting some physical stuff. I think it’s just about maybe a little bit better execution on some things.
“There might be something I’m missing or doing different, but yeah, there has to be an adjustment.”
The Nationals snapped the Braves’ streak of four consecutive wins in extra innings and denied what would’ve been a fourth Braves win in five games this season at Nationals Park.
“It was really good up until the ninth inning,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Those things happen. You hate it when it does, but there were a lot of really good things…. (Johnson) has been real dependable. The guy’s a horse, he takes the ball all the time. I’ve got no problem with Jim Johnson. My God, he’s saved our rear so much.
“Those things happen. It’s happening all over baseball. It’s just tough because we’re fighting to get to .500 and chase these guys, but that’s a pretty good ballclub over there. They give a lot of people fits. It’s a tough loss, we’ll bounce back and go out and win the game tomorrow.”
After the Nationals erased a three-run deficit in the ninth against Johnson, they got a career-first hit from Adrian Sanchez to start the 10th against Krol. One out later, Ryan Zimmerman singled to right to put runners on the corners, and Murphy singled over the head of drawn-in left fielder Matt Kemp to end it.
Freeman had a towering game-tying home run off Max Scherzer to start the seventh inning, added a two-run single in the eighth and put the Braves in position to secure at least a split in the four-game series.
But Johnson came in and consternation began immediately. He gave up a leadoff single in the ninth to Bryce Harper on a ground ball that got past second baseman Brandon Phillips, then walked Ryan Zimmerman before Daniel Murphy lined an RBI single to right to trim the lead to 4-2.
Anthony Rendon followed with another run-scoring single before Johnson recorded an out on a force at second. That brought up Matt Wieters with runners on the corners. Snitker was ejected during the Wieters at-bat for arguing on a checked-swing call that would’ve been strike two but was called a ball.
Wieters fouled off a full-count pitch before the tying sacrifice fly to center field. Johnson gave up another single before Sam Freeman came in to record the last out.
“Just a couple of breaks didn’t go my way,” Johnson said. “Obviously didn’t stop the bleeding, couldn’t get the big out when I needed, things kind of snowballed. Just kind of put us in a bad spot.”
Dickey gave up three hits, one run and one walk in seven innings but got no decision. He’s 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his past four starts.
“He gave us everything he had and did a spectacular job against a really good hitting ballclub,” Snitker said.
After Freeman pulled his long home run to right field in the seventh inning, he added a two-run single through the left side of the infield in the eighth off left-hander Oliver Perez, turning a one-run lead into a three-run margin
The Nationals opted not to have Scherzer face Freeman with two on and two out in the eighth, bringing in veteran Perez — to no avail.
Dickey didn’t allow a hit until Stephen Drew’s leadoff double in the sixth inning, the second consecutive Friday that a Braves pitcher flirted with a no-hitter. Mike Foltynewicz took his no-hit bid all the way to the ninth inning a week earlier at Oakland.
Wieters followed Drew with a single that tied the score, 1-1, but Dickey retired the next three on a sacrifice bunt and consecutive strikeouts looking.
“He’s been fantastic (lately),” Freeman said. “He’s been pitching like he was when he won the Cy Young. He’s been great for us. Tough that we didn’t get him a win today.”
Dickey retired the first 10 batters and faced the minimum 15 in the first five innings, allowing only a Ryan Raburn one-out walk and erasing him by getting Bryce Harper to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Dickey turned the tables on the Nationals just 2 ½ weeks after they knocked him around for eight hits and eight runs in five innings on June 13 at Nationals Park. When the 42-year-old pitcher told reporters after that game that he felt like he was close to turning the page from being mediocre, there were some raised eyebrows.
But he obviously knew what he was talking about: Dickey has allowed one or no runs while pitching at least six innings in all four starts since, giving up totals of 17 hits and three runs in 27 innings in that span and lasting seven innings three times.
Adams had a pair of doubles against Scherzer, who retired the first nine Braves before Ender Inciarte’s leadoff double in the fourth inning. Brandon Phillips followed with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead against the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, who came in as the leader among major league qualified starters in ERA (1.94) and opponents’ batting average (.159), OBP (.223), slugging percentage (.280) and OPS (.503).
Scherzer lasted 7 2/3 innings and was charged with six hits, four runs and one walk with 10 strikeouts in a season-high 120 pitches including 85 strikes. The last two runs on his ledger scored when Freeman singled off Perez.