Braves 5, Nationals 3, 1st game; Nationals 4, Braves 3, 2nd game
ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Braves split a doubleheader and felt like they had been swept.
In the opener, Andruw Jones homered and drove in all five runs to lead the Braves past the Nationals 5-3.
It was two more tight games between NL East rivals that have been doing this all season. Ten of their 15 meetings have been decided by one run, three others by two runs.
“Losing that second game the way we did, it almost feels like we’ve been swept,” said Adam LaRoche, who was thrown out at the plate trying to score the go-ahead run in the eighth. “That’s a tough loss.”
Atlanta rallied from a 3-1 deficit, but Wilkerson led off the ninth with a single off Chris Reitsma (3-5), moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, then took off for third on a steal.
When the throw by rookie catcher Brian McCann sailed into left field, Wilkerson sped home with the go-ahead run. Chad Cordero worked the ninth for his 43rd save, tying John Wetteland’s 1993 franchise record with the Montreal Expos.
“We’ve played a ton of one-run games,” LaRoche said. “I know we’ve won some of them, but it just feels like we’ve lost most of them.”
Actually, the Braves have a 6-4 edge on the Nationals in one-run games. Washington holds an 8-7 lead overall and remained six games behind first-place Atlanta.
“I guess they decided to give me a birthday present,” said National manager Frank Robinson, who turned 70.
Wilkerson noticed Reitsma’s slow windup and decided to take a chance, knowing how the Nationals have struggled to score runs.
“If you get thrown out, it looks bad,” Wilkerson said. “But I took the risk, and it worked out.”
McCann had a good pitch to handle, but “I tried to hurry up the throw and it sailed on me. It’s terrible.”
Atlanta rookie Wilson Betemit had a career-best four hits, including a two-out, bases-loaded single in the eighth. The tying run scored, but LaRoche was tagged out on a strong throw by right fielder Jose Guillen.
Betemit’s run-scoring hit off Mike Stanton (1-1) denied Washington starter Livan Hernandez his first win at Turner Field. He remained 2-13 in his regular-season career against the Braves, including 0-7 in Atlanta.
Hernandez usually saves his wins for the postseason, beating Atlanta three times in the playoffs.
“I have pitched a lot of good games, but lose,” he said. “But the most important thing is for the team to win.”
McCann’s errant throw wasn’t the only miscue by Atlanta. Second baseman Pete Off fumbled the ball trying to turn a a double play, allowing a run to score in the seventh. Newcomer Todd Hollandsworth ran the Braves out of a potentially big inning in the bottom half, getting caught off second during an aborted bunt.
John Thomson has yet to win in four starts since coming off the DL. But, in his most effective appearance, the Braves starter gave up eight hits and two runs in six innings.
Jones hit his major league-leading 43rd homer in the first game and finished one short of his career high for RBIs. He drove in six runs in a 1999 game at Colorado.
For good measure, the Gold Glove center fielder also made two diving catches, both on liners hit by Preston Wilson.
“He’s the greatest player in the world right now,” said Horacio Ramirez (11-8), who went seven innings for the win. “Both sides of the ball— offensively, defensively—he’s playing great.”
With 30 games to go, Jones has a realistic shot at 50 homers. Before this season, he had never hit more than 36 in a season.
“I really don’t care,” Jones said. “I’m just looking forward to proving people wrong about counting us out of being in the playoffs and not getting past that first round.”
While the Braves have won 13 straight division titles, they’ve been bounced in the opening round the last three years.
Jones’ homer was a three-run shot in the first. He knocked out Esteban Loaiza (9-10) with a two-run single in the fifth, pushing his NL-leading RBIs to 108.
Marlon Byrd had three hits, including a homer, and scored all three runs for the Nationals.
Reitsma took over for Ramirez in the eighth and managed only one out before giving way to Kyle Farnsworth with two runners on.
On Farnsworth’s first pitch, the Braves picked off Guillen at first. McCann threw to first baseman LaRoche sneaking in behind the runner. Guillen complained, and TV replays appeared to show him getting his right hand to the bag before LaRoche’s swipe tag.
“You can’t let that happen,” said Robinson, who didn’t come out to argue. “Those things come back to haunt you.”
Castilla grounded out to end the threat, and Farnsworth finished up with a scoreless ninth for his second save with the Braves and eighth overall.
The Nationals tied the game at 3 on Byrd’s third hit of a day, a drive into the center-field seats for his first homer. Byrd, who played at nearby Georgia Tech, also singled and doubled, coming around to score each time.
Loaiza lasted only 4 1-3 innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four.
“He didn’t have enough,” Robinson said. “We needed a better performance out of him to have a chance to win the game.”
Thomson struggled in his first three starts coming off a long stay on the DL. He gave up 16 earned runs in 13 1-3 innings. … Braves OF Ryan Langerhans, leading off for the first time in the majors, doubled twice in the first game. … Chipper Jones left the second game because of a stomach virus.