- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals rallied from a six-run deficit last night. The major leagues’ leading home-run hitter nullified it with one swing of the bat.

Atlanta slugger Andruw Jones belted his 44th homer in the 10th inning to give Atlanta an 8-7 victory over the Nationals before 19,053 at Turner Field.

Jones’ home run came on a fastball from reliever Luis Ayala, who had not pitched in nearly two weeks because of right elbow tendinitis. Ayala fell to 8-7.

“When you leave a ball out over the plate to a guy like Andruw Jones, he doesn’t miss very many,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said.

Meanwhile, the Nationals might have lost second baseman Jose Vidro for the rest of the season with what may be a serious knee injury. Vidro pulled himself from the game after he singled in the fourth inning with inflammation in his right knee, which he had surgery on at the end of last season. He’ll have an MRI exam today in Washington to determine the severity of the injury.

Nationals manager Robinson said he will only use Vidro as a pinch-hitter and would not play him in the field the rest of the season.

“Vidro is pretty serious,” Robinson said. “It’s pretty close

to where he won’t be able to do much the rest of the year. We’ll just have to wait a couple days and see what happens with his knee.”

The loss again denied the Nationals consecutive victories, something they haven’t accomplished since winning four in a row from Aug. 12 to Aug. 15. That seems like a lifetime ago now, especially with a three-game series against wild card-leading Philadelphia starting tonight at RFK Stadium.

Against the Braves last night, starter Tony Armas Jr. was rocked for seven runs in just four innings as Atlanta took a 7-1 lead. Included in the barrage was Chipper Jones’ two-run shot in the first inning, his 14th of the year.

The Braves hammered Armas in the third with a five-run inning. Rookie Jeff Francoeur delivered a three-run homer — his 11th of the season — to further ruin Armas’ night.

It was just the latest in a string of struggles for Armas, who hadn’t pitched since leaving the Nationals’ Aug. 23 game after complaining of tightness in his right shoulder.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with Armas right now,” Robinson said.

While the Nationals (69-65) split the four-game series with the division-leading Braves (76-58), they lost ground in the NL wild-card race to the Phillies. The Nationals’ loss coupled with Philadelphia’s 3-1 win over New York dropped Washington three games behind the Phillies in the wild-card race and seven games behind the Braves in the division chase.

Last night’s game did offer the first glimpse of some new Nationals. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made his major-league debut in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter, striking out against Atlanta reliever Jim Brower.

Shortstop Deivi Cruz, acquired from San Francisco this week, went 2-for-5 in place of the slumping Cristian Guzman. Cruz moved to second in the eighth when Guzman entered the game as a pinch-hitter for reliever Hector Carrasco.

The Nationals made it 7-3 on Vinny Castilla’s two-run single in the fourth. Castilla, who went 2-for-5 with four RBI, later delivered a bases-loaded single off Braves reliever Dan Kolb to tie it 7-7 in the seventh.

Earlier in the seventh, Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen drew bases loaded walks to pull the Nationals within 7-5.

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