ATLANTA (AP) -- Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox is known for
giving his players the freedom to swing on 3-0 counts.
Not Tuesday night. Not in the playoff atmosphere of an
extra-inning game between the teams tied for first place in the NL
East. Not with a sellout crowd of 43,308 on its feet, adding more
pressure to the situation.
Not even with Andruw Jones at the plate and the bases loaded.
Jones took a close pitch from Luis Ayala for ball four in the
10th inning, capping a comeback that gave Atlanta a 3-2 victory
over the Washington Nationals and sole possession of first place in
Jones, who shares the major-league home run lead with Chicago's
Derrek Lee at 32, had a triple and a double in the game. But Jones
also leads the Braves with 42 walks, and he patiently waited while
Ayala tried to make him chase a nasty sinker for ball three.
"In that situation you've got to be smart enough, after a guy
throws you a 2-0 tough sinker, you have to go out there and be
really patient and let him at least throw you one over the plate,
and he didn't," Jones said.
The Nationals, who led the NL East by 5½ games on July 2, fell
out of first place for the first time since June 4 -- the last date
the Braves were in first alone. The teams had shared first place
for five days.
Washington closer Chad Cordero blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth,
spoiling a strong start by Livan Hernandez against Atlanta's John
Smoltz in a matchup of All-Star pitchers. The Braves tied it when
Jones doubled and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Adam LaRoche,
who homered earlier.
Rookie catcher Brian McCann led off the 10th with a single
against Mike Stanton (0-1), and pinch-runner Jeff Francoeur
advanced to second on pinch-hitter Julio Franco's sacrifice.
Nationals manager Frank Robinson ordered an intentional walk to
Ayala threw three balls well out of the strike zone. His fourth
pitch was close enough that Jones paused before beginning his walk
to first base. Ayala and catcher Brian Schneider argued the call by
plate umpire Bruce Dreckman.
"When it's 3-0, you throw the ball down the middle of the
plate," Robinson said. "You think he's going to swing at a 3-0?
Where are you going when it's 3-0?"
Cox said he thought ball four "was off the plate quite a bit."
But the view from the Nationals' bench was different.
"I thought it was perfect," Hernandez said.
Chris Reitsma (3-2) worked a perfect 10th for the win.
The teams began the three-game series tied for first place, and
the Braves tied the game at 2 in the ninth against Cordero --
handing him his fourth blown save in 38 chances.
Jones led off the ninth with a double to left-center and moved
to third on a single by Chipper Jones.
"He threw two pitches and had guys on first and third right
away," Chipper Jones said. "That's the kind of pressure you want
to put on them."
LaRoche, who gave the Braves their first run with a homer in the
seventh, followed with a sacrifice fly to right, allowing Andruw
Jones to score the tying run.
The rally denied Hernandez his first win over the Braves in five
His last win against Atlanta came on Aug. 18, 2000, with the
Giants. In 12 regular-season starts against the Braves since, he
was 0-10 with a 6.91 ERA.
"I pitched well today," Hernandez said. "I don't know what
happens [against the Braves]."
Hernandez gave up five hits in eight innings. Smoltz allowed
eight hits and two runs in eight innings. He walked two and had
Brad Wilkerson had three hits with an RBI and robbed Chipper
Jones of a home run in the seventh by reaching over the left-field
wall to make a catch.
LaRoche ended the shutout bid by hitting Hernandez's next pitch
into the right-field seats for his 14th homer.
Robinson started his full opening-day infield -- Nick Johnson,
Jose Vidro, Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla -- for the first time
since May 4. Johnson, returning from a bruised heel, was activated
from the disabled list before the game and went 0-for-4.
Wilkerson's two-out bloop single to right drove in Schneider to
give Washington a 1-0 lead in the third. Schneider led off the
inning with a single.
Another two-out single pushed the Nationals' lead to 2-0 in the
fifth. Hernandez led off the inning with a single and moved to
second on Wilkerson's third hit. After advancing to third on a
double-play grounder by Vidro, Hernandez scored when Jose Guillen
reached down to line a low pitch into center field.
The Braves' only two hits through six innings were
extra-base hits -- a second-inning bloop double by Chipper Jones and
a fourth-inning triple by Andruw Jones. ... The Braves improved to
2-40 when trailing after eight innings.