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Braves overpower Nats
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."
Yet when LaRoche came up again with two outs and first base open in the fifth, he was again intentionally walked.
"It's a good idea," Ortiz said. "We walk the left-hander and get to the right-hander."
A good idea if Ortiz executed the way his manager wanted him to. Robinson said he didn't necessarily want his starter to go after Diaz but rather to pitch around the No. 8 hitter and bring the opposing pitcher to the plate.
Instead, Ortiz (9-10) went right after Diaz and again paid the price, surrendering another RBI single that helped turn the game into a rout and sent the Nationals' pitcher to the showers.
"Each time he hit, it was two outs and a base open somewhere with the pitcher on deck," Robinson said. "Under the circumstances, he's not supposed to have a chance to do damage to you. None. ... You're not supposed to be pitching to him."
Everything after that was academic. Reliever Ryan Wagner served up Jones' second homer of the night, then Hughes surrendered his third -- an upper-deck shot in the eighth that capped a remarkable night for the perennial All-Star, who just came off the disabled list Sunday from a strained oblique muscle.
"I guess he's healthy," Nationals catcher Brandon Harper said.
"[Hitting three homers] was probably the furthest thing from my mind," Jones said. "And that's probably why it happened. It was quite a thrill."
But not as big a thrill as Diaz was about to experience. With two outs in the seventh, he tapped a slow bouncer up the middle. Shortstop Felipe Lopez fielded the ball and fired on the run to first, but the throw bounced several times and Diaz beat it out for an infield single -- his record-tying 10th in as many at-bats.
The previously unknown outfielder became the 11th player in NL history to accomplish that feat, the first since Cincinnati's Bip Roberts in 1992.
"It's not something you prepare for," Diaz said. "You don't expect coming into a game, after having a good day yesterday, to have four hits in a row again."
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