- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

ATLANTA — Head down, glove in hand, Washington Nationals reliever Sean Burnett walked off the field after the seventh inning a beaten man.

The conciliatory pat from manager Jim Riggleman who greeted him at the steps of the dugout did nothing to erase that fact. He was beaten. Beaten by Martin Prado on the 10th pitch of an at-bat, with the bases loaded. Beaten after two controversial check-swing calls, with a four-run lead, in the one way he was trusted not to be.

It took three more innings before the Atlanta Braves finished the job, Brian McCann bringing in the winning run on a one-out single in the 10th for the 6-5 win. But either way, almost any chance the Nationals had at going home with so many positives — a series sweep, their first winning road trip in three years and off a dominant performance by Jordan Zimmermann — left Turner Field along with Prado’s game-tying grand slam.

“It makes me sick to think I blew a four-run lead,” said Burnett, who may have had Strike 3 to both batters he faced on check-swings that weren’t called in his favor. “It’s unfortunate because Zim threw such a good game … I made one mistake tonight, and it cost us four runs.”

Zimmermann had held the Braves to one run over 6 1/3 innings to that point but walked Freddie Freeman on a 3-1 slider he admitted he’d want back and then gave up a single to Alex Gonzalez. When Burnett came on to get the final two outs of the inning, the right-hander watched stoically from the dugout praying for a ground ball.

The win Zimmermann had put himself in line for by striking out a career-high 11 and setting down 12 of 13 at one point — the exception being a Chipper Jones home run — was gone.

“It’s baseball,” Zimmermann said. “This is a tough one right now. Thought we had them there 5-1 and kind of let it get away.”

Zimmermann was at 90 pitches when he stepped out of the dugout for the seventh. But with Nationals manager Jim Riggleman wanting to stay away from right-handers Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard, who’d both pitched in Wednesday’s extra-innings affair, and saving Drew Storen for a possible save situation, the Nationals also needed Zimmermann to take them a little deeper. They asked the same of left-handed specialist Doug Slaten, who threw a career-high 2 1/3 innings after Burnett exited the seventh.

Slaten, who had never thrown more than two innings in an outing in parts of six seasons in the majors and hadn’t faced more than four batters all season, pitched to 10 Thursday night. He got the first six, but a leadoff walk to Prado was his undoing.

“Regardless of who we had available, as good as [Zimmermann] was going, he would have gone back out there,” Riggleman said, implying that relievers Brian Broderick and Henry Rodriguez weren’t considerations in the tie game. “But it would have been maybe a better ballgame for us if we had Coffey and Clip available. It just wasn’t there.”

Nationals pitchers walked five, one intentional. Three of the last four came back to hurt them. Zimmermann’s seventh began with one who later scored, Burnett’s appearance did as well. Slaten’s was the final straw.

“Walks kill a guy,” Zimmermann said.

One night after perhaps their most uplifting victory of the season, with their offense providing a rare cushion via a two-run homer from Danny Espinosa and an RBI single by Adam LaRoche, along with a chance to move above .500, the Nationals were back where they started this nine-game road trip.

Dealing with a loss.

“We had a 5-1 lead, but again, that’s baseball,” said catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who hit a home run in the sixth for the Nationals’ final run. “That’s why you have to play the game until the last out because anything can happen.

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