Nats rise in 9th, drop Braves, 4-3

Futility with runners on base ends as Schneider doubles in 3-run inning

April 13, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - When Brian Schneider hit a two-run double in the ninth inning last night, the Washington Nationals finally had ended an ugly, clutch-hitting drought.

As if on cue, it soon started raining at Turner Field.

Before the Nationals could preserve their 4-3 comeback victory in the bottom of the inning, a torrential rainstorm suspended play for 31 minutes, sending 20,122 fans to seek cover.

The Nationals returned relaxed.

"We had our closer fresh," said center fielder Brad Wilkerson. "And I think that put more pressure on the hitters to stay loose and stay focused."

Washington closer Chad Cordero gave up one hit in a scoreless ninth for his first save, marking an impressive comeback for a team that did next to nothing against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson for eight innings.

Heading into the ninth, the Nationals were hitless in 10 at-bats with runners on base, with their only run coming on a bases-empty homer by Jose Vidro to lead off the fourth.

It was more of the same for a team that had an incredibly dismal, 3-for-50 mark with runners on base in its previous five games.

"When you've got that kind of number, you're due for a big hit," Wilkerson said. "And we came up with it tonight."

Atlanta closer Dan Kolb's wildness certainly helped. Entering the ninth with a 3-1 lead, Kolb walked Vidro, allowed a single to Jose Guillen and walked Nick Johnson to load the bases with no outs.

"You try to be as upbeat as you can going into the ninth," Schneider said. "But after [Kolb] went and walked the first guy, you saw a total different change and attitude in the dugout. Then we got a knock from Guillen, and from there on the attitude just changed."

Kolb induced a force at home on a grounder by Ryan Church for the first out before Cristian Guzman hit a sacrifice fly to center to cut the lead to 3-2. That brought up Schneider, who was batting .217 with no RBIs in his first eight games, as the Nationals' final chance.

"We haven't been cashing in with two outs, and Schneider hasn't been swinging the bat very well ... " Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "We were down to our last out, but we were still pulling for him and he came through for us."

On a 1-1 pitch, Schneider hit a liner into the right-center gap to score Johnson and Church and give the Nationals (4-4) their third comeback of the season.

Now, they could leave this grueling nine-game road trip and head home to their opener with a plus-.500 record, despite facing some of the league's best pitchers, such as Hudson. He allowed six hits and no walks in eight innings in the no-decision.

After Vidro's homer, the Braves tied the score in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Andruw Jones. They took the lead in the sixth on a two-run double by Chipper Jones against starter Esteban Loaiza, who had retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Luis Ayala (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth for his first win of the season.

NOTES: Third baseman Vinny Castilla sat out most of last night and likely won't start this afternoon's game because of muscle soreness behind his right shoulder. Castilla said he pulled a muscle during batting practice Monday and felt pain when he threw overhand. Robinson said he would give Castilla two days off as a precautionary measure. Castilla did, however, pinch hit in the ninth inning last night. Utilityman Jamey Carroll replaced Castilla. It was Carroll's first start of the season ...

President Bush will throw out the first pitch at tomorrow's home opener at RFK Stadium. He'll be the 12th president to do so in Washington, but the first since Richard M. Nixon in 1969. Bush's pitch will come exactly 95 years to the day that William Howard Taft, the country's 27th president, started the tradition.

Nationals today

Opponent: Atlanta Braves

Site, time: Turner Field, Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 20/1050 AM

Starters: Nationals' Tomo Ohka (0-1, 4.50) vs. Braves' John Thomson (1-0, 1.29)

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