Then, things fell apart.
Tyler Clippard failed to get through the eighth, allowing a run on a hit and three walks. Drew Storen got out of a jam he inherited from Clippard in the eighth, but then allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits with a walk in the ninth. And in the 10th, Craig Stammen served up a game-winning two-run homer to the light-hitting Ramiro Pena that gave the Braves a dramatic 6-4 win.
"We're just not locating the ball," Johnson said of his relievers. "We're all over the place. I've got to take responsibility. Probably overusing them or something. ... Det's pitched two great ballgames and come out with nothing. I feel real bad about that.
"We just didn't make the pitches. We just didn't attack the hitters. We just kind of gave them some momentum."
Clippard, Storen and Stammen combined to walk five Braves hitters in their three innings of work.
"They'll kill you," Johnson said. "Kill you."
Storen was an out away from a save in the ninth, and it looked like he might get that save when Justin Upton bounced a ball behind the third base bag with the bases loaded and two down. The ball backed up Ryan Zimmerman, however, and he decided to sling a throw to second base to try and force Jason Heyward.
The throw scooted past a diving Danny Espinosa, who came over to cover, and went into right field, allowing two runs to score to tie the game.
"I didn't have a good angle of that," Johnson said of the play. "I couldn't even tell where the runner was and the throw, if it even beat him."
In hindsight, now that we know how everything played out, Zimmerman's best play might have been to just hold the ball, keep the tying run at third base and move on to the next hitter. But Johnson didn't question Zimmerman's decision to go to second to try and end the game.
"You've got a play at one base," Johnson said. "The ball was a couple steps to the right. Second base was the play. Heyward's pretty fast."
The Nats managed just two hits off Braves pitching after the second inning. They got to Atlanta starter Julio Teheran for four runs over the first two frames, but were shut down after that.
"We weren't as patient," Johnson said. "He didn't have great command. We were helping him early in the count, on his pitches. A little overly aggressive."
In Johnson's mind, tomorrow's 1 p.m. start is a good thing. After all, there's less time to think about this one before the Nats get a chance to even the series.
"For me, it's better," Johnson said. "Let's get back out there."