Braves finish trip 4-5 after Sunday loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON -- As stunning as Sunday's loss to the Washington Nationals was, it had a familiar feel for the Braves.

The last-place Nationals did more of what they’ve been doing to the Braves for the past two years, only this time with higher stakes involved. They turned three walks into two runs in the seventh inning for a 4-2 win, jeopardizing Atlanta's playoff hopes by taking two out of three games.

The Braves headed home after a 4-5 trip with only six games to salvage the season.

“We’ve got six games to make this thing happen, [to] see what we're made of,” Brian McCann said quietly.

The Phillies lost Sunday but still clinched at least a tie for the NL East, while the Braves were a half-game behind the San Diego Padres in the wild card race.

The Braves thought they’d found a new way to win Sunday -- with rookie Brandon Beachy filling in capably for the injured Jair Jurrjens and Rick Ankiel coming out of nowhere to drive in two runs on a home run and a double. Instead, the Braves found a new way to lose to the Nationals.

Three consecutive two-out walks in the seventh inning set up Ian Desmond, who drove in two runs with a single up the middle off reliever Jonny Venters.

The Braves fell to 35-46 on the road this season, having lost eight out of 11 road series since the All-Star break.

“It’s hard,” said Bobby Cox, who might have managed the last road game of his career. “It’s a tough loss to swallow. Nobody on, two outs, and we give up three walks and a chopper.”

The Nationals finished the season series 10-8 against the Braves and are 17-10 against them all-time at Nationals Park.

When the Braves think back to these games, and try to put a face on what happened to them late in 2010, Willie Harris’ might come to mind.

It was Harris who drew a two-out walk to start the seventh-inning rally, and then stole second in a move that seemed to rattle reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Harris stole on an 0-2 pitch to Danny Espinosa, and Farnsworth threw his next four pitches for balls. Venters, Farnsworth's replacement, missed the strike zone with the next six pitches.

After Nyjer Morgan walked, Desmond swung and missed a 2-0 pitch that appeared to be out of the strike zone. He said afterward he was being aggressive so Adam Dunn wouldn’t have to face the tough lefty Venters. The next pitch was hittable, though, and Desmond knocked in the game-winning runs.

Venters wouldn’t blame fatigue, though he entered Sunday with the third-most innings -- 79-2/3 -- among relievers in the National League.

“I feel fine,” said Venters, who has walked four in his past 2-1/3 innings. “[I] just haven’t been throwing a lot of strikes lately, and, when I do, it’s up in the zone. Guys are making me pay for it.”

The Braves went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the sole clutch hit a double by Ankiel that tied the game at 2-2 in the seventh.

Ankiel had thrown a strike to home plate from center field to hold the Nationals’ lead at 2-0, completing a double play to end the second inning. He’d cut into that lead with a solo home run in the fifth, his first homer since Aug. 23.

His throw helped settle down Beachy, who faced seven base runners in the first two innings and only one over the next three. He finished with nine strikeouts in five innings, while giving the Braves a chance to win for the second time in two starts since Jurrjens injured his knee.

Now the Braves will wait to see if Jurrjens can go Tuesday or if they have to face the Marlins with both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe pitching on three days rest.

“We should have some confidence at home,” Cox said. “The difference is we get more clutch hitting at home late in the game.”