ATLANTA — Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson bemoaned a lost opportunity in the ninth inning Saturday night after seeing his team fall in the 10th.
The Nationals wasted an excellent opportunity off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth before Henry Rodriguez gave up B.J. Upton's winning hit an inning later as Washington fell to the Atlanta Braves, 2-1.
Johnson said it was a frustrating loss as the Nationals (28-28) fell back to .500. They didn't score in the ninth after having runners on third and second bases with no outs against Kimbrel, the hard-throwing All-Star closer.
With the game tied 1-all, Ryan Zimmerman led off the ninth with a soft single that fell just beyond the reach of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was running toward the outfield. Zimmerman moved to third when Adam LaRoche doubled to center field.
Kimbrel struck out Ian Desmond, and then Roger Bernadina hit a grounder to third baseman Chris Johnson, who threw out Zimmerman at the plate as LaRoche advanced to third. Danny Espinosa popped out to left fielder Justin Upton to end the inning.
"That was a tough one," Johnson said. "We had our chances. We had the guys up; we just couldn't get it done.
"We had [Kimbrel] in a jam. All we had to do was put it in play, a little sac fly. It's frustrating. We're just not doing it. It's just tough."
Desmond was more upbeat. He said it was encouraging to just have a chance to score against Kimbrel.
"I got a good pitch to hit. I just fouled it off," Desmond said. "And then he painted one in the high 90s on the black.
"We continue to get better at-bats against him. It's a step in the right direction. He's an unbelievable pitcher. He doesn't get the success he's had by just luck. You've still got to try to put the ball in play. He froze me up. What're you going to do?"
B.J. Upton's winning hit off Rodriguez (0-1) was a broken-bat single.
"It doesn't matter," Upton said.
The single was as sweet as a home run, especially when Upton rounded first base, turned and tossed his helmet and saw his teammates charging at him from the Braves' dugout for a celebration that ended in a big pile behind the mound.
"It was crazy, man," Upton said. "We've got a crazy bunch of guys, but overall it was a lot of fun."
Upton, hitting only .145 at the start of the game, had been held out of two straight starts by manager Fredi Gonzalez, who hoped the rest would jumpstart the center fielder.
And Upton came through. The single drove in Jordan Schafer from second base. A sliding Schafer narrowly beat the throw from Bernadina in right field.
Rodriguez walked Evan Gattis to open the 10th. Schafer replaced Gattis as a pinch-runner. Ramiro Pena popped out trying to bunt a high fastball, but Schafer stole second and Dan Uggla drew a walk before Upton ended the game.
"B.J. came up with a huge hit at the end," said Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson, who allowed three hits and an unearned run in 7 1/3 innings. "I know it's something he can be proud of, and so are we.
"Everybody knows how hard he's been working to try to get things back on track. Hopefully this is just a small sign of things to come. Everybody is really happy for him, and it was exciting to see."
Jordan Walden (2-1) pitched a perfect 10th to get the win for the Braves.
Hudson and Gio Gonzalez delivered similarly strong starts. The Nationals' Gonzalez gave up one run on three hits and one walk in seven innings.
"The outcome of the game was exactly what everybody wanted to see: a competitive game," he said. "We tried. Everyone battled.
"I'm proud of these guys. They worked their tails off. They do it every game. I'm not disappointed at all. They're playing their hearts out."
Fredi Gonzalez was ejected by home plate umpire Larry Vanover in the fourth inning, apparently for complaining from the dugout after a 2-2 pitch to Zimmerman was called a ball.
Uggla walked to lead off the third for the Braves and moved to third on B.J. Upton's single that bounced off the glove of Gio Gonzalez into center field. Uggla scored on Simmons' groundout to Desmond at shortstop.
The Nationals tied the game with an unearned run in the fourth. Steve Lombardozzi led off with a grounder to Freddie Freeman. The first baseman threw over the head of Hudson, who was running to take the throw at the bag, for an error. Lombardozzi hustled to third base on Zimmerman's slow groundout and scored on Desmond's single to center field.
Lombardozzi started in left in the Nationals' patchwork outfield. Bryce Harper was placed on the 15-day disabled list with bursitis in his left knee. Harper hurt his knee when he crashed into the wall in a May 13 game at the Dodgers and had missed the last five games.
Each team wore Negro League throwback uniforms for the Braves' first Heritage Weekend to honor Atlanta's role in the civil rights movement. The Braves wore Atlanta Black Crackers uniforms -- complete with red and blue striped high socks -- and the Nationals wore the Homestead Grays uniforms.
Players from the Negro Leagues, including some in wheelchairs, were recognized before the game.
The series ends this afternoon in a pitching matchup of Braves left-hander Paul Maholm and Nationals righty Nathan Karns. Maholm has a 2.38 ERA in three starts against Washington since joining the Braves.