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WSH@ATL: Medlen fans 13 over seven strong innings

ATLANTA -- Kris Medlen set the tone with yet another impressive performance, and Craig Kimbrel fueled the energy with one of the most dominant innings a pitcher can create. All of this set the stage for the Braves to allow their fans to celebrate a thrilling conclusion in the midst of a playoff-type atmosphere.

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Braves probably won't erase the deficit that separates them from the Nationals at the top of the National League East standings.

But as the Braves punctuated Medlen's latest stellar effort with an eventful ninth inning that provided a 2-1 win over Washington at Turner Field on Friday night, a raucous crowd of 41,797 fans provided every indication that they are still excited about what October might bring this year.

"It really was a nice atmosphere," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Hopefully they'll come back out tomorrow to support us. Today was almost playoff atmosphere against the best team in baseball, record-wise. It was nice to see."

After the pitchers dominated most of the evening, the Braves saw Andrelton Simmons and Michael Bourn fuel the decisive ninth inning with consecutive one-out singles that put runners at the corners. Pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky followed by hitting the first pitch he saw from Sean Burnett directly to drawn-in shortstop Ian Desmond.

Once Desmond's hurried throw to the plate sailed wide of the plate, Simmons slid across with the winning run and pumped his fist in jubilation.

"You don't think the game is going to end that way, especially the way the game was going, with really good defense and really good pitching for both sides," Medlen said. "But we'll take it."

Medlen proved masterful while limiting the Nationals to one run and five hits in seven innings. He recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts and issued one walk in his 96-pitch outing.

Though Medlen did not earn a win for the first time in his past seven starts, the Braves have now won each of the past 20 games that he has started dating back to 2010. The last team to benefit from a similar streak was the Yankees, who won 20 straight games started by Roger Clemens in 2001.

"It's something you strive for together as a team, to go out and win games," Medlen said. "If we're winning when I'm on the mound, then keep running me out there. It's something I've taken pride in my entire life, just winning games."

With the thrilling victory, the Braves snapped their three-game losing streak and moved to within 7 1/2 games of the first-place Nationals in the National League East race, with just 17 games remaining.

The Braves might not catch the Nationals in the division race. But if they hold on to their comfortable lead in the Wild Card standings, there is a chance they could see their division rivals in the postseason.

"This is playoff baseball," said Washington outfielder Jayson Werth. "Every team we play for the rest of the way is in the hunt and hungry, so these are the types of games we're going to play for the next six weeks. We're going to have some tests, and I think we're up to the challenge. More times than not, I think we're going to win that game."

While Medlen was impressive, Kimbrel was downright nasty as he needed just 10 pitches to strike out the only three batters he faced in the ninth inning. The dominating closer needed just six pitches to strike out the first two batters he faced. His bid to match an unbreakable record was erased when Danny Espinosa fouled an 0-2 pitch before ending the inning with a strikeout one pitch later.

"That's what Craig does," Medlen said. "He saw how many strikeouts I had, and I heard he was getting a little jealous."

Medlen's only mistake came when Bryce Harper began the sixth inning by hitting a first-pitch curveball over the left-field wall. The 19-year-old phenom's game-tying opposite-field shot was just the third home run that Medlen has allowed since joining Atlanta's rotation on July 31.

"I couldn't even believe that he hit that ball where he hit it," Medlen said. "It was an unbelievable swing, and you see why the guy is as good as he is. I made a mistake and he made me pay for it. But we came out on top in the game."

Simmons' fourth-inning sacrifice fly accounted for the only damage done against Nationals starter Ross Detwiler. For a while, it looked like that one run might be enough for Medlen, who has compiled an eye-opening 0.86 ERA in the nine starts he has made since making the conversion from reliever to starting pitcher.

Medlen struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and totaled nine strikeouts through the first four innings. The only threat he encountered in the first five innings came when he walked Harper after Werth doubled with two outs in the third inning. But he escaped unscathed courtesy of Ryan Zimmerman's groundout.

"It was just one of those nights where everything just kind of felt like it was working for me," Medlen said.

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