ATLANTA -- Initially, it appeared the Braves were going to be doomed by an ugly third inning marred by multiple defensive miscues. Then they staged a promising comeback that simply set them up for more disappointment and frustration against the Nationals.
As the Braves were still feeding off the energy Andrelton Simmons created with a game-tying home run in the seventh inning, Michael Morse hit Chad Durbin's first pitch of the eighth inning over the right-center-field wall to give the Nationals all they needed to secure a 5-4 win on Friday night.
"You want emotional games like this, because you want to battle and win," Simmons said. "After you win, you feel good about yourself, and that you accomplished something. But after battling that much and losing, it hurts."
As Simmons sat at his locker after the game, it was apparent this division showdown had taken its toll. Instead of celebrating the clutch home run he had delivered off Ross Detwiler in his team's four-run seventh inning, he found himself focusing more on the ugly third inning that had been marred by the errors he and Jack Wilson had committed.
Still, while that third inning might have doomed starting pitcher Randall Delgado, the evening's crushing blow came courtesy of the first-pitch fastball that Morse sent the opposite way to open the eighth inning and cap his four-hit performance.
In the 18 innings Durbin had completed since last allowing a home run on May 7, he had allowed nine hits and just two runs.
"Coming back scoring four in [the seventh inning] puts all the pressure on them," Durbin said. "They start to think about who [they are] going to throw out there with the matchups. To give back a run that quick, on the first pitch ... if it's 2-0, maybe you feel a little better about it, but it's not a good feeling."
Freddie Freeman's leadoff double in the ninth inning put the Braves in position to complete yet another rally. But after Eric Hinske and Michael Bourn recorded consecutive flyouts that were not deep enough to advance Freeman, Simmons ended the game with a weak fly to right field.
"We got a lot of hits, but we just didn't capitalize," said Simmons, who also left the bases loaded in the fifth inning with a fly ball caught by Morse in right field.
The Braves have now lost five of the first six games played against the first-place Nationals this year. They now sit 4 1/2 games back in the National League East race, and face the challenge of going up against Nationals starters Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez in the final two games of this series.
While not as intimidating as Strasburg and Gonzalez, Detwiler had little trouble keeping the Braves scoreless until they erased their four-run deficit in the seventh. Wilson's bunt single put Freeman in position to score Atlanta's first run, coming on Martin Prado's pinch-hit single. Bourn followed with a sacrifice fly before Simmons further endeared himself to the home crowd with his game-tying, two-run home run.
When the Braves opted to give Wilson his first start since May 30, they expected the sure-handed infielder could capably spell slumping second baseman Dan Uggla. But it was his inability to cleanly field Adam LaRoche's two-out grounder in the third inning that sparked an ugly chain of events.
Morse followed with a sharp grounder that eluded Chipper Jones' glove and landed in shallow left field. Simmons quickly secured the baseball and made the unwise decision to attempt to catch LaRoche straying too far off second base. His errant throw moved runners to second and third, setting the stage for Ian Desmond to follow with a two-out, two-run single.
"I was trying to help out the team," Simmons said. "I saw two balls go off gloves. I was trying to back-pick LaRoche at second. I was too aggressive. I've got to be better than that."
After needing 50 pitches to complete the first two innings, Delgado was positioned to complete a perfect 14-pitch third inning before he was doomed by his defense.
Delgado allowed eight hits and four runs -- two earned -- while totaling 90 pitches in four innings. The 22-year-old hurler had completed a career-low 1 1/3 innings last Saturday in Boston.
While the defensive woes tarnished this outing, Delgado made the mistake of allowing a two-out RBI single in the second inning to Detwiler, who had just three hits in his previous 59 career at-bats. He also was damaged by Jesus Flores' one-out solo home run in the fourth inning.
"Delgado didn't pitch particularly well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But I thought that third inning, after probably laboring through the first couple innings, he goes out gets the first two guys with quick outs. Then we didn't help him too much after that, making some mistakes behind him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.