Surging Nats put up their Dukes

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The lead grew to 8-6 in the sixth, then shrunk to a run in the seventh on Chipper Jones’ solo homer.

It appeared the Braves would take the lead back when Gregor Blanco doubled to right center in the eighth, but after Greg Norton scored, Dukes, Hernandez and Flores snapped off a relay that ended with Flores tagging Anderson at the plate and denying the Braves the go-ahead run.

That defensive play preserved the tie game and set up the chance for Dukes to deliver in extra innings.

Hernandez led off the 10th, coaxing a walk out of a seven-pitch at-bat and moving to second on McCann’s passed ball. Cristian Guzman followed by ripping a single that would have won the game if Prado hadn’t deflected it off his glove at first base.

But the Braves decided to walk Ryan Zimmerman, a move that momentarily looked like it would pay off.

Lastings Milledge quickly struck out on a diet of breaking balls from Nunez, and Ronnie Belliard hit a hard liner right at Anderson that appeared to catch Hernandez off-guard at third. He tagged up and hesitated, unsure whether he would be able to beat the throw, and decided to retreat as Anderson relayed to the infield.

“It was too close,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t take that chance.”

The extra caution was vindicated when Dukes resisted the temptation to uncork one of his thunderous swings in hopes of being the hero. He stretched Nunez to an eight-pitch at-bat and took a low slider for ball four, thumping his chest as Hernandez finally came home with the winning run.

“He had a lot of breaking balls, so I figured he’d try to attack me the same way,” Dukes said. “That’s the thing. They know I can hit a fastball, so they try to go breaking balls. I’ll take the walk.”

And the Nationals will take their longest winning streak of the year along for another day.

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