ATLANTA - Despite a slow start offensively and a sloppy first few innings from starter Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals still trailed by just a run after six innings.
Things then got away from the Nats in the bottom of the seventh.
Two tough defensive plays allowed the Braves to turn a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 advantage, effectively wrapping up a three-game sweep in a 15-minute span.
With one out in the seventh and the speedy Michael Bourn on first, Reed Johnson hit a high chopper to third base. Ryan Zimmerman charged the ball and tried to pick the short hop, but the ball skipped off his glove and back into the air. By the time he located it, Bourn was sliding into third, giving the Braves runners at the corners with still just the one out.
"With Bourn on first base, if I take a step back and get a big hop, it's going to be tough for me to get the lead runner," Zimmerman said. "And then it's going to be a tough play to get Reed running at first, too. It's one of those plays where kind of before the play happens, you say if it goes up, you've got to do whatever you can to get the ball and have a chance to get either one of those guys. I just didn't know where it went after it hit off my glove, and I let Mike get to third base."
Zimmerman was given an error on the play, a tough ruling by the official scorer. Sean Burnett then came out of the Nats' bullpen, and two pitches into his outing, he got just what he wanted - a sharp ground ball right at one of his infielders.
First baseman Adam LaRoche gloved it, touched first and then fired home trying to get Bourn to complete what would have been a huge inning-ending double play. His throw was a bit up the third base line, however, and Bourn slid just past the tag of catcher Kurt Suzuki to score a big insurance run.
"I try and roll it the conventional way (by going to second to try and turn a 3-6-3 double play) and we don't get him, that's a run," LaRoche said. "Got some fast guys on the bases, so close to first, try and touch it and go home. Just kind of pulled it up the line. I think if I put in on the money, we've probably got him."
Three batters later, the Braves tacked on two more on Dan Uggla's single to left, making it a four-run game.
Things ended poorly for the Nationals, but they didn't start great, either. Gonzalez threw 83 pitches in his first three innings of work, and while he only gave up two runs over those three innings, he dug himself a bit of a hole.
Gonzalez failed to notch his 20th win of the season, allowing two runs over five innings with four walks and five strikeouts.
"I wasn't pounding the strike zone," he said. "Here and there, nibbling at corners, trying to be perfect, but tough break. Still a good game, five innings, two runs. Just tip your cap, you know. That's a good hitting team. They're scrappy."
When Gonzalez came out of the game with two runners on and none out in the sixth, he tipped his cap toward Chipper Jones, who was standing on third base. This might be the last time the Nats face Jones head-to-head, and Gonzalez wanted to acknowledge the future Hall of Famer.
"One of the greats to ever play the game, greatest third baseman that ever played," Gonzalez said. "It was just an honor to be on the same field, especially at his house."