- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

ATLANTA — Maybe it was the hangover effect of Ken Griffey’s walk-off, three-run homer on Thursday night.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t a good way to impress the new bosses of the Washington Nationals.

With Mark Lerner, son of new Nationals owner Ted Lerner, and Stan Kasten, the new team president, sitting in the front row just outside Washington’s on-deck circle, the Nationals dropped their third straight game, falling 6-2 to Atlanta at Turner Field.

Atlanta Braves starter John Smoltz handcuffed the Nationals, allowing only four hits in a complete-game effort — the first complete-game victory over the Nationals this season and the 52nd of Smoltz’s career.

“It’s hard to judge another pitcher against our ballclub,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.

That’s because the Nationals contributed to the Braves victory by committing a season-high four errors. Alfonso Soriano was slapped with two of them. Royce Clayton and starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz each committed a throwing error.

The Nationals, who fell to a season-worst 12 games under .500, are now 1-3 on this nine-game, three-city road trip. Nationals rookie left-hander Mike O’Connor will try to end the team’s skid tonight in Game 2 of the series against the Braves’ winless right-hander Jorge Sosa.

The 31,818 at last night’s game saw Smoltz (3-2) pass Chuck Finley for sole possession of 21st place on baseball’s all-time strikeout list when he sat down Nationals shortstop Clayton in the eighth inning for his 2,611th career strikeout. Smoltz, who is in his 19th major league season, made the 643rd start of his illustrious career. The game lasted just two hours and 14 minutes because of Smoltz’ efficiency. Seventy-four of his 103 pitches were strikes. Smoltz struck out seven and walked one.

“That was Smoltz being Smoltz,” center fielder Marlon Byrd said. “He threw all his pitches, he spotted, he worked in and out today which was different. I guess he was feeling so good he started dropping down [on his delivery]. It was something new he showed us.”

Smoltz is only the seventh major league pitcher to make 400 starts and 200 relief appearances. He has 180 wins and 154 saves in his career. Smoltz and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley are the only pitchers in major league history with at least 150 wins and 150 saves.

The right-hander had a no-hitter going into the fourth inning until Soriano hit a bloop single to right.

The Nationals (12-24) didn’t score a run off Smoltz until the fifth inning when Nick Johnson led off with a double off the center-field wall. Rookie Ryan Zimmerman cleared the bases with his sixth home run of the season, narrowing the deficit to 3-2.

From that moment, Smoltz clamped down and retired 12 of the next 14 batters to end the game.

“We couldn’t get the hits off Smoltz,” said catcher Matt LeCroy, who started his second straight game for injured starter Brian Schneider. “He was throwing his slider for strikes, throwing his fastball for strikes. He was just getting the ground balls and mixing it in and out.”

While Smoltz coasted, Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz remained winless. Ortiz, who the Nationals signed in the offseason to bolster their starting pitching, continued to disappoint, falling to 0-4. He ran into early trouble, giving up two runs in the first inning . Edgar Renteria started things with a one-out single that went off Ortiz and rolled to short.

Chipper Jones singled to left and Ortiz walked slugger Andruw Jones to load the bases. Braves catcher Brian McCann singled into the alley in right. Jones scored, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.

Ortiz, who made his seventh start of the season, allowed the Braves another run in the fourth inning. Adam LaRoche, the Braves first baseman, smacked a sharp grounder off Ortiz’s right knee. The right-hander hustled to pick up the ball and then threw it past first baseman Johnson for a two-base error. With LaRoche on third, Ryan Langerhans made it 3-0 when he singled to center field.

“It’s my fate that this is happening,” said Ortiz, whose ERA raised to 6.30 with last night’s performance. “It’s been a long time since I’ve won any game. It’s a crazy situation right now. We played good or if we play bad, we don’t win.”

Ortiz went 61/3 innings and allowed six runs on eight hits. He walked four, struck out one and hit a batter in his 97-pitch outing.

The Braves (16-19) scored three more runs in the seventh. Francoeur delivered a two-run single to left off Nationals reliever Jason Bergmann, upping the score to 6-2.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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