Braves rally, but fall to Nats in ninth
Rookie phenom Heyward plates two runs as pinch-hitter
WASHINGTON -- Spared the mentally-crippling effect of being no-hit for the second time in a span of 20 days, the Braves provided themselves a chance to remember what it's like to win a road series and then found themselves yet again lamenting about squandered scoring opportunities.
After snapping Scott Olsen's no-hit bid with a one-out, eighth-inning single, David Ross found himself grounding into one of two late-inning double plays that gave Willie Harris an opportunity to victimize Peter Moylan with a bases-loaded, walk-off single that capped the 3-2 win the Nationals claimed over the Braves on Thursday night at Nationals Park.
"Until we come through in those situations, and at least get one [run] in, we're going to consistently put losses up," said Chipper Jones, who might have been discussing the Braves' sixth shutout loss had Jason Heyward not delivered a pinch-hit, two-run single to tie the game in the eighth.
The Nationals accepted the generosity granted by Eric O'Flaherty, who issued Adam Kennedy a leadoff walk and then gave way to Moylan, who saw Ryan Zimmerman drill a 2-0 sinker off the right-field wall to put runners at second and third with nobody out.
Following an intentional walk to Cristian Guzman, Harris felt like he exacted some revenge by directing Moylan's 1-0 sinker into right field for the game winner. The veteran utility player from Cairo, Ga., has hit .361 against the Braves since they non-tendered him following the 2007 season.
"It irks you in the pit of your stomach," Harris said of being non-tendered. "But what it does is, it gives you a boost, if you know how to handle it. You take it and you use it. It's just adversity tossed your way."
Had Olsen matched the no-hitter that Ubaldo Jimenez completed at Turner Field on April 17, the Braves would have encountered a frustration level greater than the one that existed during their recent nine-game losing streak.
This certainly didn't look like the same Olsen, who had gone 3-5 with a 6.25 ERA in his previous 12 career starts against the Braves. The 26-year-old had completed 20 consecutive scoreless innings before Ross denied his no-hit bid with a line-drive single to left field.
After a throwing error charged to Zimmerman and a Nate McLouth single loaded the bases, Olsen gave way to right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard, who promptly allowed Heyward to come off the bench to deliver a game-tying, two-run single to left field.
Limited to pinch-hit duties because of a sore right groin that he incurred on Thursday night, Heyward did not go to second base when Roger Bernadina made an errant throw from the outfield. With runners at the corners and one out, Clippard kept the game tied by getting Omar Infante to lace an inning-ending grounder to shortstop Ian Desmond.
"It's just stuff like that that's hard to swallow," said Ross while also referring to his ninth-inning double-play groundout. "They've got a lot better team than they've had in the past. We've got a really good team too, and we're not playing up to our capability right now."
Adding to their recent woes, the Braves may not have Heyward in their lineup for at least a few more games. The 20-year-old's team-high 26 RBIs are a product of the fact that he is now hitting .550 (11-for-20) with runners in scoring position.
"I wish we could play him, but it's pretty obvious that we can't right now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Olsen, who was charged with two runs (one earned) and two hits in 7 1/3 innings, gained a small advantage courtesy of the solo homers that Tim Hudson surrendered to Pudge Rodriguez and Adam Dunn. That was the only damage incurred by the Braves right-hander, who has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 14 career starts against the Nationals/Expos.
"You've got to tip your cap to [Olsen]," Hudson said. "He's got pretty good stuff, but let's be honest, I don't think he's got no-hit stuff. He was mixing things up pretty good and had us off-balance, and we couldn't do much against him for a while."
Like Jones, Matt Diaz carried a .440 career batting average into this game against Olsen. But in each of his three at-bats against the Nationals' left-hander, the Braves' left fielder looked at a called third strike, and then issued a few choice words in the direction of home-plate umpire Bill Miller.
"He got called out on some bad pitches," Cox said.
When asked for his opinion, Jones said, "No comment. I'll get fined if I comment. It's happened before and it will happen again."
Fortunately for Jones and the rest of his Braves teammates, he wasn't saying this in reference to yet another hitless evening.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.