Braves 6, Nationals 4

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WASHINGTON (AP)—John Smoltz was angry at himself for letting a lead shrink.

He was upset by what he called a “rough infield,” his explanation for teammates’ miscues.

So when he left what would be a 6-4 victory for his Atlanta Braves over the Washington Nationals in the seventh inning Tuesday night, Smoltz threw a bit of a tantrum, taking out some of that frustration on the visiting dugout at RFK Stadium.

“I am disappointed in myself,” Smoltz said after moving within one strikeout of Cy Young and within five wins of 200. “I am glad we won, because I am fearful what I would have done to myself.”

He didn’t allow an earned run until the seventh, Chipper Jones homered, and Kelly Johnson had a career-high four hits.

The Braves made three errors, two by shortstop Edgar Renteria, and squandered most of a four-run lead but held on against the Nationals, who wore Virginia Tech baseball caps as a tribute to the victims of Monday’s shooting rampage at the school.

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., will get the hat worn by Chris Snelling, whose RBI triple came on Smoltz’s 102nd and last pitch of the evening. Smoltz gave up four runs—two earned—in his six-plus innings, en route to his 195th career victory across 20 major league seasons.

He was able to work with the lead throughout, because Jerome Williams (0-3) gave up three runs in the first inning, and it was 4-0 after the top of the third.

Smoltz allowed six hits, walked one and struck out two, raising his total to 2,797 Ks, one shy of tying Young for 18th on baseball’s career list.

Relievers Oscar Villareal, Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman got the final nine outs, with Wickman earning his fourth save.

“Fortunately,” Smoltz said, “the bullpen was huge. … That’s the difference between this year’s ball club and last year’s ball club.”

After Brian Schneider’s single and Snelling’s triple made it 5-3 in the seventh, Villareal got Austin Kearns to hit a bouncer to third base, but Jones couldn’t field it cleanly and was charged with an error. Felipe Lopez then singled up the middle to make it 5-4 and put runners on first and second with the Nos. 2-4 hitters in the lineup coming to the plate.

“We had the right guys up,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

But Ronnie Belliard failed to get down a sacrifice bunt against Villareal, then struck out. Soriano entered and struck out Ryan Zimmerman in a 10-pitch at-bat, then got Dmitri Young to fly out to left on the 12th pitch he saw.

“He was throwing hard, hard, hard,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, he throws hard.”

Atlanta had lost three of its previous four games, including two in a row to Washington.

The Nationals, meanwhile, had won three of four after a 1-8 start to the season. During that nine-game span, the Nationals fell behind by at least 3-0 in every outing—and that happened again Tuesday.

Then, when Washington went down 1-2-3 against Smoltz in the bottom half of the first, it meant the Nationals have been outscored 19-0 in first innings this season.

The game’s first four batters singled, producing two runs: Johnson, Renteria, Jones and Andruw Jones. After Williams walked Brian McCann on four pitches to load the bases with no outs, Jeff Francoeur’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.

Scott Thorman popped out, and center fielder Ryan Church made a sliding, backhanded catch of Ryan Langerhans’ blooper to end the inning.

Still, the Braves and Smoltz were ahead early.

Facing Smoltz is tough enough. Facing Smoltz when he’s holding a lead?

“He has about seven pitches he throws, and he throws them all for strikes. And when he’s got a comfortable lead, I mean, this guy’s been there, done that. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Dmitri Young said. “So giving a guy like that any kind of cushion just makes it easier for him.”


Chipper Jones hit his fourth homer of the season; it came off RHP Jon Rauch in the eighth. … Langerhans went 0-for-4, making him 2-for-25 (.080). … Williams went five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits.

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