Nats steal nightcap for twin bill split
Outfielder swipes third, scores go-ahead run on errant throw
ATLANTA -- Since the start of the exhibition season, Nationals manager Frank Robinson has given his players the green light to steal bases. However, they have rarely taken advantage of the situation.
Entering Wednesday's action, in fact, the Nationals ranked last in the National League in steals with 33. However, Brad Wilkerson's attempt to steal a base on Wednesday night helped the Nationals edge the Braves, 4-3, in the second game of a doubleheader at Turner Field.
The victory gave the Nationals a split of the doubleheader after the Braves won the first game, 5-3.
In the nightcap, the game was tied at 3 when the Nationals scored the go-ahead run in the ninth inning off reliever Chris Reitsma. With Nick Johnson at the plate, Wilkerson attempted to steal third. Braves catcher Brian McCann threw the ball into left field and Wilkerson scored the go-ahead run.
"That's something I have been looking for all year long," said Robinson, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday. "I guess he decided to give me a birthday present tonight, but it's the first time that we have done that [with any significance]. The green light has been there a lot of times this year, but we haven't taken advantage of it. If there had to be a first time, this was a good time for it."
Wilkerson decided to make an attempt to steal because of Reitsma's high leg kick. Wilkerson also gave credit to Johnson for being patient at the plate.
"I was trying to catch him off guard and go to third base and try to make something happen," Wilkerson said. "Nick did a great job. In that situation, it's very easy to swing at the pitch and foul it back. But he was very patient up there and gave me the opportunity to get the steal."
Asked why the Nationals haven't taken advantage of Robinson's green light, Wilkerson said, "I don't think we have enough basestealers on this team. I'm definitely not a basestealer. I get mine here and there."
The winning pitcher was Mike Stanton (1-1), while Reitsma took the loss and Chad Cordero picked up his Major League-leading 43rd save, which ties a franchise record set by Expos right-hander John Wetteland.
The Nationals are now six games behind the Braves in the National League East and two games behind the Phillies in the Wild Card race.
"We are all thinking about the division title," Cordero said. "We don't want to put our goals too short by just thinking about the Wild Card. We still feel we still have a shot at the division."
Livan Hernandez started for the Nationals and pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on 10 hits. He struck out three and walked four. Washington needed Hernandez to go as deep in the game as he did, because most of the relievers have been overworked or injured.
"Livan was not smooth, but he was like his old self because he kept us in the ballgame," Robinson said. "He didn't let the game get away, and we came up with a win."
Hernandez was given a 1-0 lead in the first, when Preston Wilson doubled down the right-field line off John Thomson to drive in Johnson.
But the Braves quickly tied the score in the bottom of the first, when Chipper Jones hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Pete Orr.
The Nationals had a 3-1 lead by the seventh. In the fifth, Vidro scored the club's second run on a Wilson force out. Two innings later, Vidro scored the third run on a throwing error by Marcus Giles.
But the Braves were able to tie the score by the eighth. In the bottom of the seventh, Ryan Langerhans scored on an Orr groundout. An inning later, with Stanton on the mound, Wilson Betemit singled to right to drive in Giles (the run was charged to Hernandez), but right fielder Jose Guillen threw out Adam LaRoche, who was trying to score the go-ahead run.
"What can I say? It was a great throw," Guillen said. "They had to send the runner. They had to try something. They probably have the report that I have a banged-up arm and he took a chance. You don't think about anything, you try to do your best and let it go. Whatever happens, happens."
The no-decision meant that Hernandez remained winless against Atlanta in his last 14 starts. The last time he beat the Braves was Aug. 18, 2000, when he was with the Giants.
"The team winning is more important to me," Hernandez said. "If I don't pitch well, I would like to see the team come back and do well, because it's the only way I lose all my stress from the game."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.