Braves 2, Nationals 1

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WASHINGTON (AP)—The rain that began before the first pitch and never relented turned RFK Stadium’s infield into a messy mix of mud and puddles by the time Cristian Guzman crouched for Raul Mondesi’s bases-loaded grounder with two outs in the ninth inning.

The Washington Nationals’ shortstop gathered the wet ball without a problem, but his throw skipped past first baseman Nick Johnson and into the visiting dugout, allowing two runs to score and helping the Atlanta Braves rally to win 2-1 Thursday.

“I’ll tell you one thing: I’m just glad nobody got hurt out there. It was so bad out there on the field—tough to run, tough to play defense,” Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro said. “You really can’t blame anybody for this loss. It was tough to be out there.”

Asked whether he thought play should have been stopped, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said: “I have no control over that. I can’t tell the umpires to stop the game. It’s up to them. They’re more inclined to still try to complete those games nowadays than stop them, and I don’t know why.”

Between innings, workers dumped extra dirt from bags and buckets on the mound, in the batter’s boxes and around the infield. Vidro said he hopes groundskeepers will make improvements while the Nationals are out of town the next three days.

RFK hasn’t housed a major league team since the Senators left in 1971, and delays in the deal bringing the Montreal Expos to Washington meant work on preparing the place for baseball didn’t get going until January.

Since the Nationals’ home opener a week ago, there have been concerns about the softness of the mound, and keeping the field in top shape is made harder because the stadium also is used by Major League Soccer’s D.C. United.

Guzman wouldn’t speak to reporters. But Robinson called the infield’s condition “horrible,” and third baseman Vinny Castilla said: “I’ve never played in an infield like that in the big leagues.”

It was the first loss of the season for Washington’s bullpen, which entered leading the majors with a 5-0 record. The team also had been 5-0 in games decided by one or two runs.

“It looked like we were going to be snakebit there, but it turned out all right,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I was surprised there wasn’t some more throwing errors early when the game started. You play nine innings and no one threw the ball away—that’s pretty miraculous.”

After John Patterson shut down the Braves for seven innings and Hector Carrasco threw a perfect eighth, closer Chad Cordero (2-1) opened the ninth by giving up singles to Marcus Giles and Johnny Estrada on two-strike pitches and a walk to Chipper Jones.

Cordero then struck out Brian Jordan and Adam LaRoche, and it appeared he was out of trouble when Mondesi rolled a 2-0 pitch toward Guzman. But the throwing error by Guzman—No. 2 among AL shortstops last season with a .983 fielding percentage for Minnesota—left Cordero with his second blown save.

“I was happy getting the ground ball. It was unfortunate that he threw it away. But he’s not the one to blame. I’m the one to blame,” Cordero said. “I’m the one who loaded the bases.”

Chris Reitsma (1-0) pitched a perfect eighth for the victory, and Dan Kolb finished up for his fifth save, with the help of Andruw Jones’ diving catch of pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga’s liner.

Atlanta’s comeback prevented John Smoltz from taking another tough loss and dropping to 0-4 in his return to starting. He allowed five hits in seven innings, including Jose Guillen’s RBI single in the fourth.

“It didn’t look like we were going to get it done again,” said Smoltz, who struck out nine. “I’m just glad we’re talking about a win today and not bad luck. “

The Braves have scored just two runs with him in the game. The 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner moved back to the rotation after being a closer the past three seasons.

“He’s dynamite again. He’s had three of the best games I’ve ever seen him pitch—ever,” Cox said. “We haven’t gotten him any runs.”

Patterson lowered his ERA to 0.86 by allowing two singles and two walks while striking out five over seven innings. It was the second straight start in which he threw seven shutout innings.

“The team’s playing well, and that just gives me more confidence,” he said.

Rain fell as he warmed up. After the second batter, Giles, grounded a single to left, there was a 2-minute, 40-second delay as workers raked the dirt on the mound, then tamped it down—all under Patterson’s watchful eye.

When play resumed, Patterson struck out Chipper Jones, beginning a stretch in which he retired 16 straight batters.

“His last three starts, he’s been light’s out,” Castilla said.

Notes

Washington went 4-3 in its first homestand. … Guillen’s RBI ended an 0-for-11 start with runners in scoring position. … Andruw Jones, mired in a career-worst 0-for-27 slump, entered in the ninth as a defensive replacement.

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