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“I don’t know what happened. I made a mistake,” Hernandez said. “I think the guy on second base [Francoeur] gave him the sign. … 2-0, nobody’s looking for a slider.”

No matter whether McCann, a .261-hitting backup catcher, was tipped off, the home run changed the entire complexion of the game.

“A one-run game is a whole lot different than a four-run game,” Robinson said. “It’s a whole different approach from the pitcher’s side and from our hitters’.”

The four-run lead allowed Sosa (11-3) to challenge Washington’s hitters without fear of giving the game back on one swing. And the right-hander did it splendidly, throwing just 25 of his 99 pitches for balls and walking none over eight innings.

His only potential hiccup came in the fifth, when the suddenly hot-hitting Guzman lofted an 0-1 pitch to the wall in right. Francoeur, the surprise rookie of the year candidate, timed his leap perfectly and stretched his glove over the railing as the crowd fell silent with anticipation. When he came back down, the ball in his glove, the masses let out a sigh of dejection, perhaps realizing the home team wouldn’t get another shot like that all afternoon.

“It kind of takes a little air out of you, sure,” Robinson said. “That certainly would have been a big moment for us.”

Said Braves manager Bobby Cox: “To make that type of catch, running the way he was, that turned the ballgame around. I mean, it would’ve been 4-2 at that point and anything can happen.”

Instead, it remained 4-0. And the Nationals again trudged off the field feeling as if they had wasted another golden opportunity.

With the season down to its final 19 games, they may not see many more.