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Braves 9th-inning rally falls short in 7-6 loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON – Daniel Murphy switched teams this offseason but didn’t alter his assault on Braves pitching. And even in defeat Saturday night, the Braves showed they’re no pushovers and haven’t been for some time now despite having the majors’ worst record.

Murphy had a first-inning home run and four RBIs and the Nationals hung on for a 7-6 win in front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park. The Braves trailed 7-1 before scoring a run in the eighth and four in the ninth.

After RBI singles from pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur and Ender Inciarte in the ninth, Erick Aybar hit a two-run double and was out trying to stretch it to a triple, on a close play that was upheld on review after the Braves challenged the call.

“These guys, they go to the very last out,” Snitker said of his team, which has a 26-27 record in its past 53 games and 5-4 on a 10-game trip that ends Sunday with the rubber game of the series against the Nationals. “We started that ninth inning off (with a Jace Peterson triple), Frenchy (Jeff Francoeur) had a really good pinch hit… Just some really good at-bats, and then I couldn’t tell on Erick’s ball. We (challenged) it and the more I looked at it on the replay I thought, hell, he might have been safe. Guess it wasn’t enough (to overturn the call).”

Freddie Freeman, who hit his fourth homer in as many games, followed Aybar’s ninth-inning hit with a fly out to the right-field warning track that could’ve advanced the runner to third if he’d not been thrown out on the previous play.

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“We’re never out of it, that’s just kind of our team,” Freeman said. “We put ourselves in a hole so we had nothing to lose, so we came out swinging and put together a rally. Just came up a little short.”

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Of Snitker’s frequent praise for the Braves’ resilience and refusal to go down without a fight, Freeman said, “We proved that point. Some people can think it’s just blowing smoke … that it can be a cliché. But we proved that tonight.”

Freeman put the Braves ahead with a two-out solo homer in the first inning — his 23rd to match a career high — but Murphy answered with a two-run homer in the first against rookie Rob Whalen (1-1).

From there the Nationals built a big lead on the way to their 15th win in 16 games against the Braves at Nationals Park since the start of the 2015 season, after the Braves won Friday’s series opener to snap the franchise’s longest losing streak at a road ballpark in more than 60 years.

“They’re just a good team, man,” said Whalen, who gave up six hits and six runs in five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. “Good hitters at the top of the lineup. They didn’t miss those mistakes I made. Left some balls up. Murphy, I was trying to go up and in on him there and I didn’t get up enough. One of the best hitters in the game, just turned on it.”

Murphy has hit .440 (11-for-24) with three home runs and eight RBIs in eight games against the Braves this season, after totaling eight extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his last eight games against them as a New York Met.

Nationals rookie Trea Turner had three hits including a leadoff triple in the first inning and a leadoff homer in the third, and Murphy added a sacrifice fly in the third and an RBI groundout in the fifth as the Nationals took a 6-1 lead.

Whalen’s counterpart, rookie starter Reynaldo Lopez (1-1), limited the Braves to five hits, one run and two walks in seven innings for his first major league win. Braves prospect Jason Hursh made his major league debut in relief of Whalen and was charged with one run and three hits with one strikeout in the seventh inning.

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Whalen and Lopez both are 22-year-old right-handers, each making his third major league start Saturday.

Freeman is 11-for-25 (.440) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 walks in his past eight games. He’s scored at least once in each game of that eight-game stretch, the longest such scoring streak of his career.

After Freeman staked him to a 1-0 lead, Whalen gave up it up before recording his second out. Turner tripled to the right-center gap to lead off the first inning, and one out later Murphy homered to the second deck in right on a full-count, 89-mph fastball.

Murphy entered Saturday as the National League leader in average (.348), slugging percentage (.610) and OPS (.999), among other stats. He collected his league-leading 27th go-ahead RBI on the first-inning homer, and his four RBIs raised his season total to 88, second in the NL.

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