Nats blank Braves in finale
Bergmann, three relievers combine on two-hit shutout
ATLANTA -- At 9:32 p.m. ET on Thursday night, the Nationals took a lead for the first time since beating the Marlins on a walk-off single by Dmitri Young on April 4. The lead stuck and they blanked the Braves, 2-0, at Turner Field on Thursday night to snap their six-game losing streak.
Since winning that game against Florida, Washington went 61 innings without a lead. That all changed in the eighth inning against Atlanta right-hander John Smoltz.
With runners on first and third and one out, Ronnie Belliard singled to right field to score Chris Snelling and give the Nats the 1-0 lead. After Snelling scored, it was almost like the Nationals didn't know what to do with themselves. Manager Manny Acta heard Ryan Church say, "We got a lead, finally!"
"It was just weird because we are slapping hands and [Belliard] brings a guy in," Church said.
By the time third baseman Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate, the Nationals players didn't want to jinx the rally, so they went back to the same spots where they were in the dugout. The rally then continued, as Zimmerman blooped a single to right field to score Felipe Lopez for a two-run lead.
"We had some great at-bats in that inning," Church said. "A little luck finally for us. We got a couple of bleeders. We'll take it."
The lead provided Chad Cordero with his first save opportunity of the season, but it turned out to be a challenge. Of all the National League East teams, the Braves have given Cordero the most trouble. He has a 4.66 ERA against them in 27 games. To make matters worse, the first three hitters Cordero was scheduled to face in the ninth were Edgar Renteria, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, who were a combined 11-for-32 (.344) against him.
"The matchup between Chad and Renteria, Chipper and Andruw is not very good, but Chad is still our closer and we can't deviate from that," Acta said. "Every day is a new day. You can have success against guys on certain days."
"Chad is a little rusty, as we know. He hasn't been out there enough. It's the first time we had a lead [going into the ninth inning]."
As Cordero was walking to the mound, the video monitor at Turner Field showed the Braves beating Cordero on a walk-off grand slam from Jeff Francoeur on May 13, 2006.
Cordero, however, had a new game plan. He decided to throw a steady diet of breaking balls because the Braves are known to hit Cordero's fastball pretty well. Even with the altered approach, it looked like the game might end the way it did last May 13.
Cordero was able to get first out by inducing Renteria to fly out to Snelling in left field. Cordero then found himself in trouble as Chipper Jones singled and Andruw Jones walked.
Brian McCann, who led off the ninth inning in that May 13 game last year with a home run, followed and struck out looking. Francoeur was next and he walked to load the bases to bring up Scott Thorman. It took eight pitches, but Cordero struck out Thorman out on a slider to end the game.
"At first, I thought the pitch got by [catcher] Brian Schneider," Cordero said. "I couldn't see it. Then I realized Schneider had it. I was real excited. I almost tripped. To get my first save against the Braves, who I had trouble in the past, it's a great feeling."
The winning pitcher was reliever Jesus Colome, but the big story was right-hander Jason Bergmann, who had his best outing of the season. He pitched six shutout innings, gave up one hit, struck out eight batters and walked four.
The impressive outing comes after Bergmann had a conversation with general manager Jim Bowden last week. Bowden made it known that he didn't like that fact that the righty walked six batters in 3 2/3 innings in his last outing.
"It was a nice chat," Bergmann said. "Walks are not fun. I had a disappointing outing. He just told me that he was behind me. I appreciate that coming from the general manager."
Bergmann got off to a slow start, by walking three batters in the first two innings, but he retired 13 of the next 15 hitters he faced.
"I want to say that I needed this game a lot for myself, confidence-wise, but the team needed it more than me," Bergmann said. "We are in a position where people are telling us we are going to lose x-amount of games. We want to prove them wrong. Today was a start."
The Nationals will now have a good plane ride to New York and hope to start a winning streak starting on Friday against the Mets.
"I love winning on travel day and going into days off," Acta said. "This is going to be good. We know we can win now. It's a matter of putting a couple together."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.