GAME IN A NUTSHELL: There are no guarantees in baseball, not even when facing a team that has lost 16 of its last 17 and is giving up runs like they're on clearance. So it was that one night after mauling the Braves during a 15-1 victory, the Nationals found themselves locked into a tight, low-scoring affair with their free-falling division rivals.
But just when it looked like they were going to squander yet another golden opportunity with poor execution from their bullpen and a lineup that couldn't produce in key situations, the Nationals stormed back to win in as dramatic fashion as you could script.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals got a leadoff double from Yunel Escobar, a sacrifice bunt from Ian Desmond and then a huge, 2-out RBI single from Matt den Dekker that tied the game off Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino, who was trying to earn a 2-inning save. The Nats kept the pressure on and had a chance to win it right there, but they wound up needing extra innings to do it.
Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each singled, setting the stage for Michael Taylor to be the hero. Having missed the last two games with a banged-up knee, the young outfielder was brought up to pinch-hit with the game on the line. And he wound up launching a moonshot into the Red Porch in left-center, rounding the bases after his version of a Kirk Gibson walk-off winner.
The Braves had taken the lead in the top of the eighth, with Drew Storen giving up yet another run in a big spot via Freddie Freeman's double and Nick Swisher's pinch-hit RBI single. The former closer gave up only seven total runs in his first 43 appearances this season. Now setting up Jonathan Papelbon, he has given up 14 runs in his last 11 games.
That proved insignificant by night's end, though, with Papelbon ultimately tossing a scoreless ninth and 10th thanks to the double-switch that brought den Dekker into the game in the first place.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Taylor's homer was straight out of Hollywood. Or Dodger Stadium. Dealing with a banged-up knee for several days, he was held out of the lineup tonight. Matt Williams avoided him as long as he could, but by the 10th he was the best remaining option on the bench. Boy, was he. Taylor launched a ball off Brandon Cunniff that seemed to hang in the air for about 30 seconds before landing in the Red Porch, setting off a mad celebration at Nationals Park.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: We haven't spent enough time this season lauding Felipe Rivero, but we should, because the rookie left-hander has been a revelation. Matt Williams has been summoning him more and more in key situations, and more and more Rivero has been delivering in those situations. Tonight, he was asked to record six big outs in a 1-1 game, and he did it with aplomb, needing only 19 pitches to do it. Rivero finished off his evening with a strikeout of Cameron Maybin, dialing it up to 99 mph in the process.
KEY STAT: Bryce Harper has now reached base in 14 of his last 18 plate appearances.
UP NEXT: After a rare bout of wildness his last time out, Joe Ross (5-5, 3.50) returns to the mound Saturday night to face maybe the unluckiest pitcher in baseball history: Shelby Miller (5-12, 2.56). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.