Nationals 2, Braves 0

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ATLANTA (AP)—The Washington Nationals took a lead during a game—and won it, too.

Ronnie Belliard hit a go-ahead single in the eighth inning off John Smoltz and Washington beat the Atlanta Braves 2-0 Thursday night to stop a six-game losing streak.

“The first thing I heard right next to my ear was Ryan Church saying, ‘We got a lead!’ ” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “There was still a lot of game left, but that was refreshing to hear.”

Ryan Zimmerman also hit an RBI single for the Nationals (2-8), who had never before led a game this year at the time a pitch was thrown. Their only previous win was April 4, when Dmitri Young hit a game-ending single that capped a three-run ninth inning in a 7-6 victory over visiting Florida.

“I try to pitch to the situation, but this team was not going to keep losing the way it was losing,” Smoltz said. “Tonight they bowed their necks and won a game that could start something good for them.”

Washington has been outscored 61-23 this season and hasn’t scored during the first three innings of any game.

“It was great,” Church said. “We stuck together and just kept grinding it out.”

Jason Bergmann struck out a career-high eight in six innings, allowing just one hit—a leadoff double in the fourth by Andruw Jones. Bergmann, who walked four, lasted just 3 2-3 innings against Arizona in his previous start.

“That felt good for the team,” Bergmann said. “That’s something we needed, facing a guy, a legend, John Smoltz. I want to say I needed it a lot for myself confidence-wise, but I think the team needed it more than me.”

Jesus Colome (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh, Jon Rauch had a 1-2-3 eighth and Chad Cordero finished the two-hitter for his first save. Chipper Jones singled with one out in the ninth and Andruw Jones walked. After Brian McCann took a called third strike, Jeff Francoeur loaded the bases for Scott Thorman, who struck out.

Cordero was so excited that he almost tripped when he jumped to celebrate and came down awkwardly on right shoe cleat.

“If I had blown this, it would have been devastating to me and to the whole team,” Cordero said. “Out in the bullpen, we were all real excited. I was pumped up because I thought I’d have a chance to close a game for once.”

Smoltz (1-1) gave up four hits and four walks—two intentional—in eight innings, striking out six. He is 16-9 against the Nationals/Expos in 35 starts.

Atlanta had won its previous four games.

The game was scoreless when Smoltz hit Chris Snelling with a pitch leading off the eighth. Snelling was sacrificed to second and, after a walk to Felipe Lopez, took third on a wild pitch. Belliard and Zimmerman followed with consecutive singles.

That snapped a streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings for the Braves’ starters.

“You know, sooner or later, things are going to go their way,” Smoltz said. “I mean, I hit him right on the toe, but even then I thought I would be fine. Then I threw the wild pitch. That made it pretty tough. Then I had to be perfect.”

Belliard, whom Acta moved from lower in the batting order to the No. 2 spot, has a .406 average with three RBIs in 32 at-bats.

“We’ve been hitting the ball real hard all over the place and haven’t had any luck,” Belliard said. “I’m always going to right field, no matter what the situation.”

Notes

Smoltz has 2,795 strikeouts, three behind Cy Young for 18th place. … The last time Smoltz went eight innings and took a loss was June 1, 2005, against the Angels. … Belliard finished 5-for-11 in the series. … Atlanta hadn’t been shut out since last Sept. 6 when they lost 8-0 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets. … The Nationals recalled RHP Saul Rivera from Triple-A Columbus after placing LHP Ray King on the 15-day DL because of shoulder tendinitis.

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