The Nationals were just what the free-falling Braves needed.
Yes, the first-place Nationals and their star Stephen Strasburg.
The Braves snapped an eight-game losing streak by using four home runs to defeat the Nationals, 7-6, on Friday night in their return to Turner Field. The Braves improved to 7-3 against the NL East leaders this season and 25-9 in the past 34 meetings between the teams.
The game was delayed for one hour and 11 minutes in the sixth inning by rain.
The victory not only ended a dreadful stretch for the Braves. They pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the Nationals after they dropped all eight games of a West Coast road trip to Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle. The teams Braves and Nationals have three series remaining, starting with Friday's key matchup.
"We've got to win (Friday) because if not it will be eight games and then seven games (remaining)," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before the game. "Every game counts within our division. ... If you are ahead you've got a chance to expand your lead and if you are behind you have a chance to catch up by winning series again.
"Is it the end of the world (if we lose)? No. But I would like to start reeling them in a little bit. It's not impossible. We went 0-and-8 and only lost four games (in the standings). We still have a good opportunity. I see the glass half full all the time. It's an important series."
The Braves needed to get back on track. Following the series with the Nationals, they host the division-leading Dodgers and A's as part of their 10-game home stand.
The Braves jumped on Strasburg early with three two-run, two-out homers in just their first two at-bats.
Justin Upton blasted a Strasburg offering to center after Freddie Freeman drew a two-out walk in the first inning. The homer was Justin Upton's 20th home run of the season.
B.J. Upton deposited a Strasburg offering over the left field fence with Ervin Santana aboard in the second inning for his eighth home run. It marked the second time this season and a major-league record fifth time in their careers that the Upton brothers homered in the same game. Freeman joined the act with a home run to right field, after a Tommy La Stella single, for his 16th of the year. Suddenly the Braves, who hadn't homered since July 30th, had three round-trippers in two innings.
La Stella led off the fifth inning with another home run off Strasburg, a solo shot to right for the first of his career, to stake the Braves to a seven-run lead. It would be a hugely important run.
The home runs were career-highs for Strasburg in a game (4) and a season (18) as the right-hander made his 100th start. In his last eight starts against the Braves, following his last win against them on Aug. 21, 2012, Strasburg is 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA. He allowed seven earned runs in his five innings of work Friday with two walks and nine strikeouts.
The Nationals tagged Santana for four runs in the sixth inning after Strasburg was removed for a pinch-hitter. Anthony Rendon delivered a three-run homer in the inning before Santana escaped further damage.
Santana (11-6) left in the sixth inning after the rain delay. He worked six innings and allowed four hits, four earned runs and two walks with four strikeouts.
The Nationals made it even more interesting with a Wilson Ramos home run in the seventh off Anthony Varvaro to pull Washington to within two runs. After a Ramiro Pena fielding error and a Justin Upton throwing error, Asdrubal Cabrera brought in a run with a sacrifice fly. The Braves led 7-0 after five innings and 7-6 after six and a half innings.
Jordan Walden pitched 1 1/3 innings of hitless baseball to set up Craig Kimbrel who pitched the ninth for his 33rd save.
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