WASHINGTON -- By the time the improbable had been proven possible, the only thing more difficult than the Braves completing their epic comeback was explaining how it had been accomplished.
Down nine runs to a Nationals team that has frustrated them through the early part of this season, the Braves could have folded their tents and preserved their energy for Saturday's doubleheader. But that would not been nearly as exciting as claiming an 11-10, 11-inning win at Nationals Park on Friday night.
"I still can't believe it," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Nine-to-nothing, it's never happened to me since I've been here."
The 40-year-old Jones had actually just completed his freshman year of high school when the Braves last overcame a nine-run deficit. But it's safe to say the stakes in the June 7, 1987 win over the Padres were not as great as those in this win over the first-place Nationals.
Entering the sixth inning down, 9-0, the Braves were staring at the possibility of falling 4 1/2 games back in the National League East. But they cut their deficit to one run by the end of the eighth, took a short-lived ninth-inning lead and then overcame a rare blown save by Craig Kimbrel to win for the ninth time in their past 11 games.
The Braves will enter Saturday's doubleheader 2 1/2 games out of first place and with a little added confidence. This was just their third win in nine tries against the Nationals this year.
"Baseball is weird," Braves veteran Eric Hinske said. "When things start going bad for a team, it's kind of hard to stop that momentum. You could feel it. That was good for us, obviously not good for them."
The Braves managed to win a game in which Tommy Hanson surrendered eight runs, Kimbrel stumbled and Dan Uggla recorded three hits. This was Uggla's first multihit game since his four-hit performance in Miami on June 5. In the 34 games between, he had batted .108.
Uggla began the decisive 11th inning with his third single and advanced to second base on Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's throwing error. After heading to third base on Tom Gorzelanny's wild pitch, Uggla scored on a bloop single that Paul Janish deposited at the start of the grass behind the second-base bag.
"They're a good team over there," Zimmerman said. "They're not going to quit. They can hit the ball and they're going to be there until the end. That's just two good teams playing baseball. That's an exciting game."
After the game, Jones reminisced about the significance of the seven-run, seventh-inning deficit the Braves overcame against the Orioles on June 27, 2004. Some of the younger players talked about the seven-run ninth inning that Brooks Conrad highlighted with a walk-off grand slam against the Reds on May 20, 2010.
Coincidentally, Janish started at shortstop for the Reds in that memorable game that helped the 2010 Braves win the NL Wild Card spot by one game.
"There wasn't a whole lot of talking going on that day in our clubhouse," Janish said. "Those are tough games on a clubhouse."
Like in that comeback win against the Reds, Hanson also allowed eight runs in this series opener against the Nationals. His four-inning effort got off to a rocky start when he allowed a two-out, three-run home run to Michael Morse in a 34-pitch first inning. He allowed another two-out, three-run home run to Zimmerman in the fourth.
Once rookie reliever Luis Avilan walked Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg with the bases loaded and allowed a two-run single to Steve Lombardozzi in the fifth inning, it appeared Hanson was destined to incur the loss.
But the tide began to turn when Brian McCann delivered a two-run home run and Hinske added a double in a four-run sixth. Jones produced a two-run single and Freddie Freeman followed with an RBI single off Sean Burnett in a four-run eighth inning. Before Jones' single, the Braves had recorded just one hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"As long as we've played, you're going to come across crazy games like this," Uggla said. "I've been on both sides of it. Sometimes you can't stop the bleeding and sometimes you can't stop getting guys on base and getting guys in."
It appeared the Braves had positioned themselves to win in the ninth inning after Nationals closer Tyler Clippard walked Uggla and hit Janish with a pitch. Two batters later, Michael Bourn delivered a go-ahead triple off the top of the right-field wall.
But instead of extending his dominance, Kimbrel allowed the Nationals to tie it when he grooved Danny Espinosa a fastball that Espinosa deposited over the left-center-field wall to tie the game with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Kimbrel had notched 44 strikeouts and allowed just one run in his previous 26 innings. The only other blown save opportunity he incurred this year occurred during the 15-13, 11-inning win over the Phillies on May 2.
"We've had trouble getting over the hump against these guys," Jones said. "When we go up, 10-9, and then Kimbrel gives up a homer, you're thinking, 'My goodness, we still can't get over the hump.' But we kept fighting it, and hopefully tonight goes a long way towards our confidence against these guys. We've put a little pressure on them up at the top of the division. Now let's see what happens."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.