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Cora's single ties the game in the ninth

ATLANTA -- The Nationals are back to .500, and those three straight losses in Philadelphia to start the road trip are now only a distant memory.

Unlike against the Phillies, the Nationals have fared well against the Braves the past few seasons. The same had been true for starter John Lannan.

It looked like that might change Wednesday night, but the Nationals scored twice in the ninth to send the game into extra innings and added four runs in the 11th for a 7-3 come-from-behind victory at Turner Field.

The Nationals are 18-18 after taking four of the past five games and can complete a sweep of the Braves with a victory in the series finale on Thursday night before heading home to Washington.

Ian Desmond had a two-run double in the 11th and Jayson Werth padded the Nationals' lead by following with a two-run homer. All the damage came against Scott Linebrink, the sixth Atlanta reliever of the night.

The Nationals improved to 5-1 in extra-inning games and assured themselves of their fifth series win of the season.

The big 11th inning came after the Nationals tied the game in the ninth on a two-run, pinch-hit single by Alex Cora off rookie Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who suffered his third blown save of the season. It was the first time this year that the Nationals came back and won when trailing after eight innings.

"From where we started this road trip to where we are now, with a chance to sweep these guys, is big for the team," said Cora, who also had a hit in the 11th. "It was a great win."

Desmond and Werth had the big hits in extra innings, but the Nationals wouldn't have gotten there without Cora.

The backup infielder bounced a single up the middle and off the second-base bag for a two-run single with one out against the hard-throwing Kimbrel after hits by Laynce Nix and Jerry Hairston and a four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs.

"I don't hit the ball hard," Cora said. "When he threw me the 2-and-1 slider, I had a pretty good feeling he was going to throw me a fastball next."

"Alex is a veteran," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He didn't try to do too much."

Kimbrel took over for Billy Wagner as the Braves' closer this year and has eight saves in 11 opportunities.

"I'm leaving some balls over the plate and the good hitters are going to hit it," he said. "To lead off the inning, I hung a curveball to Nix and he went the other way. It was a good piece of hitting. Both of the base hits were right down the middle. It was just bad execution by me, and they did a good job with it."

Kimbrel kept the game tied by striking out Desmond and Werth and the game went to extra innings. Then Desmond and Werth got another chance in the 11th, this time against Linebrink.

With one out, Ivan Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and Cora delivered a hit-and-run single. Desmond then hit a double past third base for the two go-ahead runs, and Werth followed with his sixth homer of the season and second in two days.

Drew Storen got the win after retiring the Braves (20-18) in order in the 10th inning, and Tyler Clippard pitched around a leadoff double by Chipper Jones in the 11th for his first save.

Lannan was just an observer of the late-game dramatics after pitching six solid innings, and he sure enjoyed what he saw.

"It was awesome," Lannan said. "This game shows how good we can be as a team. It's something to build on."

"I know it's a cliché, but that was a total team victory," Riggleman said. "Just an outstanding win."

Riggleman used 20 of his 25 players, including pitcher Jason Marquis as a pinch-runner in the 11th.

"We were going to be out of bullets pretty soon," said Riggleman, who employed all his position players and all except two of his relief pitchers.

Lannan beat the Braves in Washington on April 2 and came in with a 4-2 record and 3.60 ERA in six starts at Turner Field. But he was also coming off his worst outing of the season at Philadelphia last Thursday, giving up six runs in two innings.

The Braves got their two runs off the left-hander in the first inning. Martin Prado led off with an infield single that hit off the pitcher, Jones walked with one out and Brian McCann scored both runners with a double that extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Lannan bounced back to allow just three more hits over his next five innings, finishing with three walks and three strikeouts.

The Nationals got a run back in the second inning against Tommy Hanson, who came in with three straight wins and a 1.35 ERA in those starts. Wilson Ramos led off with a double and Nix followed with a RBI single, his first of three hits.

It remained a one-run game after Hairston was caught trying to steal third base in the seventh, and the Braves' lead grew to 3-1 in the bottom of the inning when Eric Hinske hit reliever Doug Slaten's third pitch for his fourth home run.

The Nationals ran at will against Hanson, pulling off successful steals of second base in three of the first four innings. But each time the runner was stranded there in scoring position.

Hanson threw 61 pitches in the first three innings and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez went to the bullpen after Nix smacked the right-hander's 94th delivery for a two-out double in the sixth. Sidearming rookie Cory Gearrin came in and struck out Danny Espinosa on a changeup.

Hanson gave up five hits and a run in his 5 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out three.

The Nationals are 31-23 against the Braves since early in the 2008 season and have 10 wins in the past 15 games in Atlanta, including a 7-6 victory in the series opener on Tuesday night.

That followed taking two of three games in Florida last weekend. The Nationals play the Marlins again this weekend in Washington when they return from what could become a 5-4 road trip if they can complete the sweep on Thursday.

After being swept in Philadelphia to start the road swing, that would be quite an accomplishment. And, of course, that would give the Nationals a winning record with the season almost a quarter old. Comments