Nationals 7, Braves 6
ATLANTA (AP)—Austin Kearns watched the ball soar along the right-field line and wondered if it would stay fair.
Kearns’ three-run homer in the seventh inning led the Washington Nationals past Atlanta 7-6 on Friday night, another home loss for the Braves in a miserable season at Turner Field.
Trailing 4-2, Washington put up four runs on the Braves’ bullpen. Chad Paronto failed to retire anyone, giving up three straight hits that included Ryan Zimmerman’s run-scoring single. After Nick Johnson was tagged out in a rundown between third and home, Tyler Yates got the call to face Kearns.
Big mistake for the Braves. Kearns sent a 1-1 pitch screaming down the right-field line, the ball ricocheting off an outer wall just a few feet inside the foul pole for his 20th homer of the season.
“I got some good wood on it and it stayed fair,” Kearns said. “It was close. It was fading a bit. I was just hoping it would drop before it went foul.”
Washington outfielder Alfonso Soriano became the 40th player in major league history—and the fastest ever—to reach 200 homers and 200 steals for his career. He walked in the third and stole second to reach the milestone, then added his 201st steal in the eighth to go along with 203 career homers.
“I’m so proud of making it so quick,” Soriano said. “I didn’t expect to be a power hitter. It’s not easy to get 200 stolen bases and 200 home runs.”
Washington also got some bad news. Alex Escobar, who had three hits and a sacrifice fly, went out in the ninth inning with what is likely a season-ending shoulder injury. He jammed his right arm on a headfirst slide trying to get back to first and remained on the ground for several minutes, writhing in pain.
Escobar finally walked back to the dugout with the trainer having to hold up his arm. He will undergo an MRI on Saturday to determine if the dislocated shoulder needs surgery.
The Braves lost for the third time in four games during their current homestand, failing to take advantage of a pair of last-place teams. They lost a series to Pittsburgh at Turner Field for the first time since 1997, and they must win the next two against Washington to avoid dropping five of their last six home series.
Even if they pull things out over the weekend, it appears the Braves will be stuck at home during the playoffs after winning 14 straight division titles. Atlanta remained 19 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East, failed to make up any ground in the wild-card race after beginning the day seven games back and dropped to 26-34 at the Ted.
“We can’t hold leads or we can’t move runners over or we can’t score runs in the crucial part of the game,” Yates said. “Something’s got to change soon.”
Atlanta had a chance in the ninth when rookie Saul Rivera filled in for regular closer Chad Cordero, who couldn’t pitch because of an ingrown toenail. Ryan Langerhans hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer and the Braves put two more runners aboard with one out.
“I thought it would happen,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “We had the runners out there and the right guys up, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
Ryan Wagner (1-2) picked up the win with two scoreless innings. Paronto (1-2) took the loss.
The Braves surged ahead with four runs in the second, all of them scoring with two outs.
Washington’s Ramon Ortiz had a chance to get out of a bases-loaded jam after striking out fellow starter Chuck James. But Marcus Giles, back in the Atlanta lineup after not starting in six straight games because of a bruised left hand, cleared the bases with a double off the center-field wall. Edgar Renteria tacked on an RBI single.
Washington went up 1-0 in the top half of the second, taking advantage of a pair of walks. With two outs, Brian Schneider came through with an run-scoring single to center.
The Nationals closed to 4-2 in the fourth. Kearns walked, stole second and wound up scoring on Escobar’s fly to center.
James lasted five innings, giving up only two runs but struggled with his control. He was lifted after throwing 105 pitches and walking five.
Soriano became the first player to reach the 200-200 club in the same season. He’s also the quickest to join, accomplishing the feat in his 929th career games. Eric Davis needed 1,053 games. … Paronto has taken the loss in two straight games.