- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

ATLANTA — A split never looked so good as on Frank Robinson’s 70th birthday.

The Washington Nationals remained in the frenzied National League wild-card chase by splitting a doubleheader yesterday against the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Many were calling this four-game series crucial for the fading Nationals. Now the worst they can do is a series split before coming home tomorrow to open a 10-game homestand against divisional rivals Philadelphia, Florida, and Atlanta.

The Nationals salvaged the split thanks to Brad Wilkerson’s heads-up baserunning in the ninth inning of the nightcap. A throwing error by rookie catcher Brian McCann allowed Wilkerson to score the game-winning run after stealing third as the Nationals edged the Braves 4-3 before 25,555. The Braves won the first game 5-3 behind Andruw Jones’ five RBI.

The second game was the one the Nationals had to have. Closer Chad Cordero slammed the door in the ninth and tied John Wetteland’s 1993 franchise record with his 43rd save. Cordero, who leads the majors, also saved his 22nd one-run game.

“Now we’re going to come out of here with at least a split, which is good because this way you know for sure that we’re not going to lose any ground,” Cordero said.

The Nationals (69-64) remain two games behind the Phillies in the NL wild-card race and six games behind the Braves (75-58) in the pennant chase.

Washington, which ranks last in the NL with 33 steals, won in uncharacteristic manner. Wilkerson led off the ninth with a single to right, and Jose Vidro sacrificed him to second in a 3-3 game.

Robinson insisted afterward that his players always have the green light on the basepaths. Wilkerson saw his opportunity and took off with Nick Johnson at the plate. McCann’s throw sailed by Wilkerson, who was sliding into third head-first, into left field. Alertly, Wilkerson hopped up and easily beat Kelly Johnson’s throw to the plate.

“I saw [Braves reliever Chris Reitsma] give me two high leg kicks before, and I was just trying to catch them off guard and get to third base and try to make something happen,” said Wilkerson of his seventh stolen base of the season. “We do need to try and manufacture some runs here and there every once and awhile.”

Nationals starter Livan Hernandez worked 7-1/3 rocky innings but kept the Nationals in the game. Hernandez allowed three runs on 10 hits, he walked four and struck out three.

In the first game, Jones displayed his MVP credentials yesterday and prevented the Nationals from putting together back-to-back wins. Jones, the NL’s home run and RBI leader, drove in all five of Atlanta’s runs.

Behind Jones, Braves starter Horacio Ramirez improved his record to 11-8 by pitching seven innings and allowing three runs on eight hits. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth picked up his eighth save of the season pitching the final 1-1/3 innings.

Jones did all his damage off Nationals starter Esteban Loaiza (9-10). Jones belted his major league-leading 43rd home run — a three-run liner into the left-field bleachers [-] in the first inning to give the Braves a 3-1 lead.

In the fifth inning, Jones delivered an eventual game-winning single to center field that scored Ryan Langerhans and Marcus Giles for a 5-3 lead.

“The only person that got me was Andruw Jones,” Loaiza said. “The home run was supposed to be a cutter in and it stayed over the plate. The other pitch was supposed to be a cutter away, and it was away low, but he just made good contact with it and got two RBI.”

With his 43rd homer, Jones is now tied with Javy Lopez for seventh spot on Atlanta’s single-season home run list and just four shy of the franchise record shared by Eddie Mathews in 1953 and Hank Aaron in 1971.

“You take back those two bad pitches that I made and we win the game,” said Loaiza, who went 4-1/3 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits.

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