WASHINGTON -- One night after erasing a nine-run deficit in an improbable comeback victory, the Braves experienced some misfortune during John Lannan's successful return to the Majors.
Instead of riding the momentum they had generated over the previous few days, the Braves were victimized by an errant pitch, a couple bad bounces and Lannan's ability to lead the Nationals to a much-needed 5-2 win after incurring some first-inning damage.
"We played well today and got off to a good start with a two-run led in the second game and then just stopped," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "For whatever reason after about the second or third inning in the second game, we stopped swinging the bats and we weren't able to pitch very well the last four innings of the game."
Energized by the late-inning offensive barrage that carried them to an 11-inning win in Friday's series opener, the Braves received six scoreless innings from Ben Sheets while claiming a 4-0 win in the first game of Saturday's twin bill. But their hopes of completing a sweep were erased as the Nationals took advantage of multiple opportunities in the middle innings.
The Nationals claimed a lead they would not relinquish courtesy of Roger Bernadina's two-out single off Cristhian Martinez in the seventh inning. Sandy Leon began the inning with a single that hit the first-base bag, preventing Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman from making a play.
Mark DeRosa followed with a sacrifice bunt, and two batters later, Bernadina delivered his decisive single to right field. The clutch hit made a winner out of Lannan, who surrendered a pair of first-inning runs and then kept the Braves off the board during the remainder of his seven-inning effort.
"If I catch that ball and get him out, you never know what happens there," Freeman said. "It fell for them tonight."
Coming off just their third loss in their past 13 games, the Braves will enter Sunday's series finale trailing the first-place Nationals by 2 1/2 games in the National League East. After winning the first two games, they would be disappointed to have to settle for a split in this four-game set.
"I think most of the guys in this locker room felt like it was a must-win tonight," said Nats closer Tyler Clippard. "We needed to get one. If they took three from us right away, it would have been a pretty big blow."
Jones drilled the only pitch he saw in the first game over the right-field wall for a pinch-hit, two-run homer and then hit the first pitch he saw from Lannan into the right-center-field gap for an RBI double that fueled Atlanta's two-run first inning.
Paul Janish opened the second inning with double. But Lannan escaped that inning unscathed and surrendered just two more singles over his final five innings. The veteran left-hander has been stuck in the Minors throughout this season because there is not room for him in Washington's starting rotation.
But the Nationals might want to think about setting him up to start any of the games played against the Braves. He is 6-2 with a 2.59 ERA in his past nine starts against Atlanta.
"I'm so happy for him, such a great competitor, such a great guy," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He pitched lights-out. He had a rough start, but he was as close to unhittable after that as you can get."
The Nationals and Braves were able to bring up Lannan and Randall Delgado, respectively, to serve as an extra roster member during this doubleheader. Under the terms of this new rule, both will have to immediately return to the Minor League level.
Dan Uggla went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts during the doubleheader and was involved in a pivotal play in the nightcap. After the veteran second baseman fumbled Ryan Zimmerman's grounder and was unable to touch second for a force out, he still had time to retire Zimmerman but made a throw that pulled Freeman off first base.
Michael Morse was then hit with a pitch to load the bases before Delgado notched a big strikeout of Adam LaRoche. But Desmond followed with a slow grounder to Freeman that allowed Bernadina to easily cross the plate with a game-tying run.
One inning earlier, Delgado had allowed the Nationals to score their first run of the day on a wild pitch that he threw with two outs and Steve Lombardozzi at the plate. The changeup in the dirt did not come close to hitting catcher David Ross, who was set up on the other side of the plate.
"Like I said last night, sometimes when you knock the seal off of a shutout, sometimes the flood gates open," Jones said. "It happened in reverse order tonight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.