GAME IN A NUTSHELL: There was just something about this matchup — Jordan Zimmermann vs. Shelby Miller — that seemed to foretell a compelling pitchers' duel at Nationals Park on Wednesday night. Sure enough, a boisterous crowd of 36,141 was treated to a humdinger of a ballgame, with the two right-handers posting matching zeroes into the seventh ... only to watch as the game was left in the hands of both bullpen in extra innings.
Miller was more dominant than Zimmermann, retiring the first 10 batters he faced and facing the minimum through six innings. But Zimmermann made big pitches when he needed to, stranding runners in scoring position in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Somebody had to break through eventually, and that somebody proved to be the Nationals, who pieced together the night's first run in the bottom of the seventh. With runners on the corners and one out, Bryce Harper took an inside pitch from Miller and got just enough on it to send a soft looper over a diving Jace Peterson in shallow right field.
But Drew Storen couldn't preserve a 1-0 lead in the ninth. He allowed a pair of singles to Nick Markakis and A.J. Pierzysnki, setting the stage for Kelly Johnson's game-tying sacrifice fly, and Storen's first blown save in more than two months.
Never fear, though, because the Nationals put together the necessary rally in the bottom of the 11th to win it. Harper got things started with a 1-out double to right-center. After the Braves intentionally walked Wilson Ramos, Clint Robinson drew a tough conventional walk to load the bases for Ian Desmond. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez countered with David Aardsma, but Desmond connected with the right-hander's first pitch, sending a fly ball deep enough to left field to bring Harper home with the run that gave the Nationals their fifth straight victory.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: They struggled all night to figure out Miller, but finally in the seventh inning they took care of business. Denard Span got the rally started by drawing a leadoff walk. Anthony Rendon then singled to left, putting the Nats in business. Yunel Escobar nearly hit into his fourth double play in seven at-bats in the series, but by hustling down the line to beat it out, he ensured first base wouldn't be left open, inviting the Braves to intentionally walk Harper. That proved very significant, because Harper was able to muscle Miller's inside pitch over Peterson's head at second base to drive home the night's first run.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: You think these starters feed off each other? It sure looks that way. Zimmermann took the mound Wednesday on the heels of four straight dominant pitching performances, which had produced a total of 26 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings by starting pitchers. And all the right-hander did was keep that streak alive. Zimmermann did put a bunch of men on base (six hits in his first six innings) but he never let the Braves string together anything. He also didn't walk a batter, helping his cause. And he closed out his night in style, retiring the final eight batters he faced to cap off yet another brilliant performance and extend the Nationals starters' streak to 34 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, a new club record.
KEY STAT: The Nationals currently rank seventh in the majors in average attendance at 33,747. The only clubs that rank higher are either from New York or Los Angeles or won the World Series within the last four years.
UP NEXT: The series wraps up with a 4:05 p.m. Thursday matinee. Doug Fister (2-3, 4.80) looks to build off his first start back from the DL, facing Braves rookie right-hander Matt Wisler (1-0, 1.13).
MORE NATIONALS: Williams on Knorr, who should be All-Stars, plus a Zim update