Max Scherzer was yelling again Tuesday night, urging his fellow Washington Nationals to capitalize on an opportunity to make a statement on South Capitol Street.
But Scherzer’s exhortations were drowned out by the sound of the smashing triple that Ender Inciarte of the Braves hit down the first-base line in the top of the ninth inning, driving in two runs with one out to give Atlanta a 3-1 lead and a victory over the third-place Nationals.
The game ended as Nationals catcher Matt Wieters lined into a double play with two runners on base against Braves closer A.J. Minter, who got the save.
Even worse, Inciarte’s hit off Nationals reliever and loser Kelvin Herrera (1-2) forced the Washington pitcher to leave the game after he was checked out by head athletic trainer Paul Lessard. The Nationals have already been without injured closer Sean Doolittle, who placed on the disabled list July 10 with left toe inflammation.
Earlier in the day, in the first game of the doubleheader, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back homers in an 8-3 win over the Braves. New reliever Greg Holland pitched a scoreless inning in that game, and he may be needed if Herrera is not well.
Scherzer made another strong start before a crowd of 28,970, as he gave up one run and four hits with six strikeouts in seven innings but did not figure in the decision.
Washington (58-55) remained 4.5 games back of the Braves (61-49) and 5.5 games back of the first-place Phillies with the split of the doubleheader. Philadelphia played Tuesday night at Arizona.
The Braves had tied the second game at 1-1 as Charlie Culberson led off the sixth with a solo homer to left off Scherzer. It was the 17th homer allowed this year by Scherzer, but just the second in his last four starts.
Nationals left fielder Juan Soto, 19, hit a solo homer to left in the last of the first for a 1-0 lead. A Rookie of the Year candidate, Soto hit the 0-2 pitch to the opposite field for his 14th homer of the year off Braves starter Sean Newcomb.
Soto has reached base 13 straight games and the homer meant he reached base six at-bats in a row after getting two hits and three walks in the first game.
Newcomb came within one strike of a no-hitter in his last start, July 29 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He threw a season-high 134 pitches in that game, then allowed one run in six innings Tuesday night, throwing 102 pitches.
He faced a tough customer in Scherzer, who shouted as he neared the first-base dugout after he got Johan Camargo on a grounder to end the fourth inning with two runners on base.
The frame began ominously, as he gave up a walk to Nationals nemesis Freddie Freeman and a single to Nick Markakis. But Scherzer struck out former Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki and got Inciarte to pop out to second before retiring Camargo.
Scherzer got a hit in his six straight start with a single in the third. But he popped out in the fifth for the second out after Michael A. Taylor led off with a double, then Taylor was stranded when Soto fanned.
The Nationals had not faced the Braves since July 22 and have not played the first-place Phillies since July 1.
The Nationals begin a brutal stretch Tuesday, facing winning teams in 11 straight games and in 32 of 38 contests.
“Since the All-Star break we have done a better job,” first baseman Zimmerman, who had three hits in the second game, said of the Nationals’ approach at the plate. “Every win is an important win now. Hopefully, I can start getting in there a little more since I am healthy. Hopefully, I can keep it going. Like I said (hitting is) contagious.”
Scherzer had won his previous five starts and entered the game leading the league in wins with 15, strikeouts with 210 and was second in ERA at 2.33. The series continues Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. with Washington lefty Tommy Milone (1-0, 3.00) going against righty Mike Foltynewicz (8-7, 3.04) of the Braves.
NOTES: Judge William Webster, former FBI Director, was recognized before the game … It was also College Day for William & Mary on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Among the Tribe student-athletes at the game was Bodie Sheehan, a rising senior pitcher. The last Tribe product to make the majors was Brendan Harris, whose last year was 2013. He played for the Nationals in 2005-06 … On August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds set a record with his 756th career home run against Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik in San Francisco.