Game in a nutshell: The biggest series yet for the Nationals opened with a classic, tense game worthy of a pennant race. Despite jumping out to 4-1 lead after one inning, the Nationals couldn't get anything else going against Tim Hudson. Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, labored through five innings and let the Braves come back to tie the game. Then it turned into a battle of bullpens, with both teams having golden opportunities to push across the go-ahead run but neither able to pull it off. Into the night the game went, with only the hearty souls among the original crowd of 21,298 sticking around until the very end. And then finally, a crazy finish to reward them: Danny Espinosa went from first to third on Kurt Suzuki's infield single, then scored when Dan Uggla couldn't get the ball out of his glove on Chad Tracy's grounder to second. With that, the Nats pulled off a stunning, 5-4, win and took a six-game lead in the NL East.
Hitting highlightlowlight: After getting shut down by Hudson for years, the Nationals have suddenly found the right-hander's number this season. And they looked poised to do it again tonight when they exploded for four runs in the bottom of the first. Bryce Harper continued his recent hot streak with an RBI single. Adam LaRoche battled his way through a tough at-bat to record an RBI groundout. And then Ian Desmond jumped all over the first pitch he saw from Hudson, sending it flying over the left-field bullpen to snap an 0-for-11 slump since he came off the DL. But then they couldn't deliver the knockout punch to Hudson, who wound up reaching the seventh without giving up another run.
Pitching lowlight: In arguably the biggest start of his career, Zimmermann was uncharacteristically out of sync. He labored through a 24-pitch first inning and because of it was behind the 8-ball all night. Zimmermann had to battle just to get through five innings on a whopping 102 pitches. His biggest mistake: a low-and-inside fastball to Jason Heyward, who turned on that meatball and drilled it into the right-field bullpen for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4. The Nationals are going to ask a lot of Zimmermann down the stretch, as their de facto ace once Stephen Strasburg is shut down. They're going to need better performances than they got tonight.
Key stat: In his first 14 starts this season, the Nationals gave Zimmermann an average of 3.3 runs of support. Over his last 11 starts, they've given him an average of 5.8 runs of support.
Up next: Get ready for plenty more Stephen Strasburg Shutdown talk when the right-hander takes the mound for the second game of this crucial series. He'll be opposed by lefty Paul Maholm, one of the Braves' key trade deadline acquisitions. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m., and the game will be on MLB Network for those who live outside the D.C. market.