ATLANTA | The Washington Nationals should have been celebrating a blowout victory Tuesday night. They should have been reveling in an offensive outburst that was a long time coming, in a pitcher who won the 100th game of his career and in taking the first of a three-game set with a divisional rival.
But while there was some celebration — and a milestone game ball sitting in the locker of starting pitcher Jason Marquis — the most prevalent feeling in the Nationals’ clubhouse after a 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves was relief.
Relief that in a one-run game in the ninth inning a ball hit deep to center field was hauled in by Roger Bernadina and relief that, even though they allowed the Braves to almost entirely erase a six-run lead, the Nationals (17-18) still sneaked out of Turner Field with the victory.
“Every now and then, you’ve got to have a little margin for error,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said after his team allowed five runs in the eighth inning, three off a home run by Dan Uggla.
“We have not had that. Tonight we did, and it’s a good thing we did because they kept battling. That’s why you’ve got to keep scoring some runs, and we did and we had the margin for error.”
The Nationals haven’t won this year by more than four runs, but Laynce Nix and Jayson Werth put them in position to do that when each hit a two-out, three-run homer in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. It allowed them to exploit two Braves errors to beat Tim Hudson, who came into the game 11-2 against the Nationals. Washington also improved to 3-4 on the nine-game road trip.
“He still pitched a pretty good game,” Werth said of Hudson. “It’s just a matter of two swings. Guys did a good job of getting on base, and Nix had a great at-bat with two strikes to hit the ball out of the park. Just a great swing. Pretty fun to watch and that was it. Sometimes that happens. We needed every bit of it.”
Perhaps no one personified the Nationals’ trying luck at the plate of late more than Werth, who grounded into a double play when the Nationals’ scored their first run. He then used both hands to launch his batting helmet into the dugout on his way off the field.
“I just don’t like hitting balls to shortstop,” Werth said. “I knew I still had a couple of at-bats left and we had the lead at that point, so it’s not like I was frustrated or needed a release or anything like that.”
But even if he didn’t need it, he got one when he turned on a 1-2 changeup for his fifth home run — a pitch he said, “a month ago I would have swung and missed. Two weeks ago I would have hooked it foul, and a week ago I would have hit it to the third baseman.”
After Marquis, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard had combined to allow five runs in the eighth, Werth’s fifth-inning home run could easily be his biggest as a National.
It may also signify the start of an upswing in the Washington’s fortunes offensively.
It had been four games since the Nationals had hit even one home run, striking out 50 times in that span but managing to win two of those four. They struck out six times Tuesday, matching their lowest mark in the past 10 games.
“We got a few breaks tonight and then we got two huge hits,” Riggleman said. “We got seven runs. Only five hits, but I thought we hit the ball much better than that.”On a night when the Nationals’ bullpen finally faltered, they produced enough runs to reward Marquis, who held the Braves to three earned runs on seven hits and two walks. His 100th career victory came on the same mound he earned first win nearly 11 years ago as a Braves reliever.
“Who would have ever thought when I first broke in I would get to this point?” Marquis said. “A lot of hard work, good fortune and health has allowed me to do that … it’s nice that it happened here in Atlanta where it all started.”