Washington Nationals runner Michael Morse slides in safe past Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann in the third inning at their MLB National League baseball game at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia June 29, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Tami Chappell)
The Washington Nationals tightened their grip at the top of the National League East division by withstanding an Atlanta Braves fightback to eke out a 5-4 victory at Turner Field on Friday.
Michael Morse had a big night with the bat for the Nationals, going four-for-four and pumping the winning run with a solo homer in the top of the eighth inning.
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The right fielder has been in a purple patch of form recently and is 12 from 19 dating back to their recent series against the Rockies with a double and two home runs in his last four games.
"He's been looking better and better every day," Washington manager Davey Johnson told reporters.
"In Colorado, he started to look more relaxed, more comfortable in there. Shoot, he's back getting easy hits, so it's nice to have him back."
The Nationals appeared to be coasting to victory on the back of pitcher Ross Detwiler, who had kept the Braves scoreless for six innings to help the visitors open a 4-0 lead.
Detwiler also proved his worth with the bat by bringing in Morse for the opening run in the second inning with a single to right field.
Ian Desmond hammered the Braves for two fielding errors in the third by driving in Adam LaRoche and Morse for a 3-0 lead, with Jesus Flores hitting a solo home run in the fourth as the visitors looked to have the game wrapped up.
But Detwiler fatigued in the seventh, firstly hitting Freddie Freeman with a curveball, then allowing a Jack Wilson bunt single as the momentum shifted.
Martin Prado singled to bring Freeman in before Michael Bourn sent a sacrifice fly to left field to cut the lead to just two runs.
Detwiler barely survived the hook but his night ended shortly after when Andrelton Simmons sent the ball over the wall for a two-run homer to tie the scores at 4-4 and take away the pitchers claim on the win.
Morse, however, had the final say and his homer in the eighth helped Washington improve to 44-31 while the Braves dropped to 40-36 in their quest to chase down their division rivals.
"I'm starting to have better at-bats," Morse said.
"I'm starting to see pitches, recognize pitches. It comes with, basically, at-bats and seeing the ball more and just being at the plate, up at the plate, watching the pitcher.
"Any time you play a division team, it's important, especially when you're in first place like we are. Our division games are the most important games."