ATLANTA (AP) -- Fifty homers would by nice. But Andruw Jones is
looking beyond the regular season.
Jones 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, 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.
Ramirez (11-8) rebounded from a shaky start, allowing three runs
and eight hits. Kyle Farnsworth picked up his second save with the
Braves and eighth overall.
Marlon Byrd had three hits, including a homer, and scored three
runs for the Nationals.
Jones hit a three-run homer in the first, the drive barely
clearing the left-field wall to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. He came
into the game with two more homers than anyone else in the majors.
Jones knocked out Washington starter Esteban Loaiza (9-10) and
broke a 3-all tie with a two-run single in the fifth, giving the
Atlanta player an NL-leading 108 RBI and closing in on his career
best -- 116 two years ago.
"When we had a chance to score, we did," Jones said, "and
that was the game."
The Nationals went ahead in the first on Jose Guillen's
run-scoring single, and had runners at first and third with one
out. But Ramirez avoided the big inning, getting Wilson on a popup
and Vinny Castilla with a grounder back to the mound.
Ramirez surrendered eight hits and walked two before he was
replaced by Chris Reitsma, who managed only one out before giving
way to Farnsworth with two runners on in the eighth.
On Farnsworth's first pitch, the Braves picked off Guillen at
first. Catcher Brian McCann threw to first baseman Adam 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 Washington manager Frank
Robinson, who didn't come out to argue. "He felt like he was safe,
but the umpire thought he was out. Those things come back to haunt
Castilla grounded out to end the threat, with Farnsworth
pounding his glove as he walked off the mound. He finished up with
a scoreless ninth.
Nick Johnson pulled the Nationals to 3-2 in the third, driving
in a run with an infield grounder. They tied it in the fifth 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
"He didn't have enough," Robinson said. "We needed a better
performance out of him to have a chance to win the game."
After getting burned twice by Jones, Loaiza said the Atlanta
star should be the leading candidate for NL MVP.
"In the first half, he was awesome," Loaiza said, "and now
he's locked in."
In the nightcap, Washington's Livan Hernandez faced
Atlanta's John Thomson, who struggled in his first three starts
after coming off 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.