Braves overpower Nats

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On the heels of a difficult and unsightly loss, one that ended with mild-mannered catcher Brian Schneider berating reporters and overturning a clubhouse chair, manager Frank Robinson was optimistic his Washington Nationals would rebound and put Sunday’s ugliness behind them.

“That was yesterday,” Robinson said before the Nationals faced the Atlanta Braves last night at RFK Stadium. “Today’s a new day.”

The calendar may have concurred. The on-field result suggested otherwise.

Washington was pounded during a 10-4 loss to the Braves that featured record-setting performances by a pair of Atlanta players and some more testiness from the home team.

By night’s end, a crowd of 21,550 saw Chipper Jones hit three home runs in the same game for the first time in his career and teammate Matt Diaz tie a National League record by hitting safely in 10 consecutive at-bats before finally grounding out in the ninth.

Not the kind of history the Nationals wanted to be a part of. And certainly not the kind of bounce-back game Robinson was hoping for in the wake of Sunday’s fiasco.

“The effort was there tonight,” the manager said. “We just didn’t have a chance to consistently put it into play. The game got away from us. … It got out of hand.”

The day began well enough. Tempers in the Nationals’ clubhouse were considerably cooler compared with the previous day, with only a handful of players walking in and out without saying much. Schneider, who was not in the starting lineup because Washington was facing left-hander Chuck James, did not address reporters.

Robinson spoke with Schneider and a handful of other players before the game to “get the facts” about Sunday’s incidents but proclaimed the issue dead and wasn’t worried about any lingering effects.

“I look at it as a heat-of-the-moment thing,” Robinson said. “We had just lost a tough ballgame, and a question was asked that’s been asked on a number of occasions prior to yesterday. It just hit the wrong button, and that’s the kind of reaction you’re going to get sometimes after a tough loss. That’s the way I look at it.”

So the Nationals set out to open a four-game series against the Braves on a more uplifting note. It didn’t take long for things to start spiraling downward, with the combination of Ramon Ortiz’s ineffectiveness and Diaz’s hot bat proving to be deadly.

Diaz entered the game with six straight hits, so he was already on a roll by the time he walked into the ballpark. By the time he walked out, he had etched his name into the record books, thanks in large part to a Nationals pitching staff that kept deciding to pitch around Adam LaRoche to get to him.

LaRoche walked in the second inning, and Diaz followed with a two-run homer. Washington elected to walk LaRoche intentionally in the fourth with two outs and a runner on third, and again Diaz came through, this time with an RBI single to left.

In the Nationals dugout, word of Diaz’s streak began spreading.

“We kind of found out in the third inning down in the bullpen,” said reliever Travis Hughes, who wound up surrendering the 28-year-old’s fourth hit of the evening. “I mean, he’s on fire right now.”

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