The Nationals snapped their six-game losing streak Tuesday night by doing something only two teams have done since July 2012, when the Nationals had it done to them: come back to win a game it once trailed by eight or more runs.
The Nationals did that by battling back from deficits of 9–1 and 10–2 to defeat the Braves 13–12. The win was Washington’s first since last Tuesday, when it beat the Cardinals in a game with a completely different type of drama, winning that one 2–1 on Yunel Escobar’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th. It was also the largest comeback in the Nationals’ 11-year history.
Believe it or not, the Nationals actually got out to an early lead in this game, going up 1–0 in the top of the first on an RBI double by Bryce Harper. That lead lasted all of four batters in the bottom half of the inning. Pitching prospect A.J. Cole, making his major league debut for Washington in place of ace Max Scherzer, who jammed his thumb on a swing in his previous start, lasted a mere two innings. He coughed up two runs in the first and seven in a brutal second inning. Nationals manager Matt Williams let the 23-year-old righty throw 38 pitches in that second frame, leaving him in at least two batters too long, if not more given that Cole was clearly rattled by the time his error covering first base allowed the Braves’ fifth and sixth runs of the game to score.
The Nationals got their second run in the top of the third following a leadoff double by Denard Span, but the Braves got that one back in the fourth after Freddie Freeman doubled to lead off that inning against Tanner Roark, and A.J. Pierzynski singled him home. Heading into the fifth, it was still 10–2 Braves. Then the tone of the game began to change.
As in the third, Span led off the inning with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Werth. However, this time Ian Desmond reached on an error in between and after Ryan Zimmerman delivered a two-out single to extend the inning. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton then cracked a three-run home run off Atlanta starter Julio Teheran to bring the Nats within four at 10–6. In the sixth, Span struck again with a two-out solo home run that drove Teheran from the game and cut the Nationals' deficit to three.
The Braves got that run back on a single by Freeman and an RBI double by Pierzynski to start the bottom of the sixth, but the Nats just kept coming. Down 11–7, Harper and Lobaton drew walks against lefty reliever Luis Avilan, and Dan Uggla plated them both with a two-out triple, then scored himself on pinch-hitter Reed Johnson’s ground rule double.
With the Nats having narrowed a 10–2 gap to 11–10 in a mere two innings, the Braves again tacked on a run thanks to Freeman and Pierzynski, who both singled to score Andrelton Simmons after a one-out single. Jim Johnson then came on to pitch the first 1-2-3 half inning in the game since Roark replaced Cole to start the third. That handed the Braves’ 12–10 lead to closer Jason Grilli in the top of the ninth.
Grilli struck out Zimmerman on four pitches to start the inning, but Lobaton hit his next pitch up the middle for a single. Danny Espinosa, making just his third start this season at third base, battled to draw a seven-pitch walk and put the tying run on base. That brought up Uggla, who took a changeup for a high strike, swung through a higher fastball for another then crushed a 93 mph fastball out over the plate 436 feet to leftfield to give the Nationals the lead for the first time since the first inning and complete their eight-run comeback. Drew Storen worked around a one-out walk to Pierzynski for the save in the bottom of the ninth.
That marked just the second eight-run comeback in the majors since August 2012 and the first in Nationals history. Last year, the Blue Jays overcame an 8–0 second-inning deficit to beat the Reds 14–9 on June 20 with Edwin Encarnacion hitting a pair of home runs and driving in six of Toronto’s runs. The last eight-run comeback prior to that came on August 18, 2012, when the Rays battled back from an 8–0 third-inning deficit against the Angels to win 10–8, with seven of their runs coming against Angels starter C.J. Wilson.
The last time a team staged a larger comeback was, coincidentally, when the Braves came back from a 9–0 deficit against the Nationals on July 20, 2012. In that game, the Braves didn’t score their first run until the sixth inning and actually took a 10–9 lead into the bottom of the ninth only to have Craig Kimbrel blow the save (!) then rally to win 11–10 in 11 innings. Uggla went 3-for-4 with two walks and four runs scored as the Braves second baseman in that game. Remarkably, he was better on Tuesday as the Nationals second baseman, going 3-for-5 with a triple, the game-winning home run and five RBIs.
Prior to Tuesday night, the largest comeback in Nationals history came on June 17, 2006, when the Nats battled back from a 9–2 deficit in the fifth inning to beat the Yankees 11–9, scoring the decisive runs in the bottom of the eighth against Mariano Rivera with the go-ahead run scoring on a Jose Guillen triple. Zimmerman, who subsequently singled in Guillen to cap the scoring in that game, is the only player to play in that game and Tuesday night’s.