- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ATLANTA - For nearly five full games, the Washington Nationals had excelled at stranding runners. Going into last night’s ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals were 3-for-42 with runners on base and had been outscored 30-5 over that span.

Enter Brian Schneider. The catcher drilled a game-winning, two-run double into the gap in right-center field to give the Nationals a rain-delayed 4-3 victory over the Braves before 20,122 at Turner Field.

“I was just trying to get a good swing and hit the ball hard somewhere,” said Schneider of his first two RBI of the season. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a ground ball through the middle or a ball down the line.”

Trailing 3-1 entering the ninth inning, the Nationals (4-4) appeared destined to lose their third straight before Braves closer Dan Kolb (0-1) blew a save.

Kolb, acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers to fill the vacancy created when John Smoltz returned to starting, gave the Nationals instant momentum by walking leadoff man Jose Vidro. Jose Guillen’s single and walk to Nick Johnson loaded the bases with none out.

With one out, Cristian Guzman cut the deficit to 3-2 with a sacrifice fly to center field. Then Kolb went after Schneider with three straight fastballs, and the catcher drove the third one into the gap in left and to score Johnson and Ryan Church, who had reached on a fielder’s choice.

“Any win like that is big for us because we are not scoring a lot of runs,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “And when you lose a ballgame like we lost last night [11-2], it’s tough, because we haven’t been hitting.”

Nationals reliever Luis Ayala (1-0), who pitched a scoreless eighth inning, picked up the win, and closer Chad Cordero recorded his first save by slamming the door after a 31-minute rain delay in the bottom of the ninth.

Washington starter Esteban Loaiza pitched seven innings and received a no-decision. After eight games, no Nationals starter has won.

The victory gave the Nationals some momentum as the prepare for tomorrow night’s home opener against Arizona at RFK Stadium. A win today over the Braves would give the Nationals a 5-4 road record to open the season.

Braves starter Tim Hudson was in cruise control for eight innings and allowed just one run on six hits before Kolb entered the game.

Hudson, who went 20-6 with the Oakland A’s in 2000, was acquired by the Braves in a major trade in the offseason for right-hander Juan Cruz, lefty Dan Meyer and outfielder Charles Thomas on Dec. 16.

Both starters gave up a run in the fourth inning. Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro led off the inning with a line-drive solo home run 356 feet into the right-field stands for a brief 1-0 lead. That was Hudson’s only mistake as he pitched eight innings and allowed one run on six hits and struck out six.

The division-leading Braves manufactured one run off Loaiza in the fourth inning and tied the game 1-1. With one out, rookie Pete Orr singled up the middle. Chipper Jones pushed Orr to third with a single into left field, and Andruw Jones drove a deep sacrifice fly to center field.

The Braves took a 3-1 lead in the sixth. With one out, shortstop Rafael Furcal singled to center field. Orr advanced Furcal to second with a single to center, and Chipper Jones delivered a two-run double to the opposite-field gap in left-center.

AssociatedPress

Brian Schneider’s two-run double in the ninth inning let the Nationals even their record at 4-4.

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