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Nationals catch break, win nightcap against Braves

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves split a doubleheader and felt
like they had been swept.

Brad Wilkerson scored on a wild throw as the Washington
Nationals manufactured a run in the ninth inning, beating the
Braves 4-3 in the nightcap Wednesday.

In the opener, Andruw Jones homered and drove in all five runs
to lead the Braves past the Nationals 5-3.

It was two more tight games between NL East rivals that have
been doing this all season. Ten of their 15 meetings have been
decided by one run, three others by two runs.

"Losing that second game the way we did, it almost feels like
we've been swept," said Adam LaRoche, who was thrown out at the
plate trying to score the go-ahead run in the eighth. "That's a
tough loss."

Atlanta rallied from a 3-1 deficit, but Wilkerson led off the
ninth with a single off Chris Reitsma (3-5), moved to second on a
sacrifice bunt, then took off for third on a steal.

When the throw by rookie catcher Brian McCann sailed into left
field, Wilkerson sped home with the go-ahead run. Chad Cordero
worked the ninth for his 43rd save, tying John Wetteland's 1993
franchise record with the Montreal Expos.

"We've played a ton of one-run games," LaRoche said. "I know
we've won some of them, but it just feels like we've lost most of
them."

Actually, the Braves have a 6-4 edge on the Nationals in one-run
games. Washington holds an 8-7 lead overall and remained six games
behind first-place Atlanta.

"I guess they decided to give me a birthday present," said
National manager Frank Robinson, who turned 70.

Wilkerson noticed Reitsma's slow windup and decided to take a
chance, knowing how the Nationals have struggled to score runs.

"If you get thrown out, it looks bad," Wilkerson said. "But I
took the risk, and it worked out."

McCann had a good pitch to handle, but "I tried to hurry up the
throw and it sailed on me. It's terrible."

Atlanta rookie Wilson Betemit had a career-best four hits,
including a two-out, bases-loaded single in the eighth. The tying
run scored, but LaRoche was tagged out on a strong throw by right
fielder Jose Guillen.

Betemit's run-scoring hit off Mike Stanton (1-1) denied
Washington starter Livan Hernandez his first win at Turner Field.
He remained 2-13 in his regular-season career against the Braves,
including 0-7 in Atlanta.

Hernandez usually saves his wins for the postseason, beating
Atlanta three times in the playoffs.

"I have pitched a lot of good games, but lose," he said. "But
the most important thing is for the team to win."

McCann's errant throw wasn't the only miscue by Atlanta. Second
baseman Pete Off fumbled the ball trying to turn a a double play,
allowing a run to score in the seventh. Newcomer Todd Hollandsworth
ran the Braves out of a potentially big inning in the bottom half,
getting caught off second during an aborted bunt.

John Thomson has yet to win in four starts since coming off the
DL. But, in his most effective appearance, the Braves starter gave
up eight hits and two runs in six innings.

Jones hit his major league-leading 43rd homer in the first game
and finished one short of his career high for RBI. He drove in six
runs in a 1999 game at Colorado.

For good measure, the Gold Glove center fielder also made two
diving catches, both on liners hit by Preston Wilson.

"He's the greatest player in the world right now," said
Horacio Ramirez (11-8), who went seven innings for the win. "Both
sides of the ball -- offensively, defensively -- he's playing
great."

With 30 games to go, Jones has a realistic shot at 50 homers.
Before this season, he had never hit more than 36 in a season.

"I really don't care," Jones said. "I'm just looking forward
to proving people wrong about counting us out of being in the
playoffs and not getting past that first round."

While the Braves have won 13 straight division titles, they've
been bounced in the opening round the last three years.

Jones' homer was a three-run shot in the first. He knocked out
Esteban Loaiza (9-10) with a two-run single in the fifth, pushing
his NL-leading RBI to 108.

Marlon Byrd had three hits, including a homer, and scored all
three runs for the Nationals.

Reitsma took over for Ramirez in the eighth and managed only one
out before giving way to Kyle Farnsworth with two runners on.

On Farnsworth's first pitch, the Braves picked off Guillen at
first. McCann threw to first baseman LaRoche sneaking in behind the
runner. Guillen complained, and TV replays appeared to show him
getting his right hand to the bag before LaRoche's swipe tag.

"You can't let that happen," said Robinson, who didn't come
out to argue. "Those things come back to haunt you."

Castilla grounded out to end the threat, and Farnsworth finished
up with a scoreless ninth for his second save with the Braves and
eighth overall.

The Nationals tied the game at 3 on Byrd's third hit of a day, a
drive into the center-field seats for his first homer. Byrd, who
played at nearby Georgia Tech, also singled and doubled, coming
around to score each time.

Loaiza lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up seven hits and
walked four.

"He didn't have enough," Robinson said. "We needed a better
performance out of him to have a chance to win the game."

Game notes
Thomson struggled in his first three starts coming off a
long stay on the DL. He gave up 16 earned runs in 13 1-3 innings.
... Braves OF Ryan Langerhans, leading off for the first time in
the majors, doubled twice in the first game. ... Chipper Jones left
the second game because of a stomach virus.