Vinny Castilla
Vinny Castilla, Carlos Baerga, Gary Majewski and Brian Schneider look on glumly moments before the Nationals fall three games off the pace in the NL East.

Braves Sweep Up the Nationals

Braves' Furcal Slides Home
Atlanta's Rafael Furcal scores in the third inning after the ball gets past Nationals catcher Brian Schneider. (John Bazemore - AP)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2005

ATLANTA, July 28 -- By Thursday morning, the previous night's fire had gone out of Frank Robinson and he leaned backward in his office, grasping for something elusive, an explanation for a wonderful season suddenly going wrong.

"It looks like we're a team that's coming out to play just to play," the Washington Nationals manager said. "It's not playing with the energy that says 'we're going to win.' Now we seem resolved to the fact that we're going to lose this game."

And for the next half hour -- before Washington took the field Thursday for yet another loss, 5-4, completing a three-game sweep by the Atlanta Braves -- Robinson pondered every possibility. Were his players worn out from a first half littered with taxing one-run wins? Could they not handle the attention that had come with leading the National League East? Were they suddenly too uptight?

He kept coming back to the theme he had pounded home in a team meeting the night before: They had to play hard again.

Then they went out Thursday and did just that.

So hard that they almost came back after starter Ryan Drese put them behind 4-0 in the first four innings. So hard that Jose Guillen, desperate to keep a sixth-inning rally alive and break up a double play, flew feet first into Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, knocking Jones to the ground and igniting a war of threats tossed between clubhouses after Jones realized that Guillen's spikes had cut him high on the right leg.

"There are correct ways to break up a double play," Jones said. "Almost castrating somebody is not the way to do it."

Then he glowered.

"I'll remember that the next time I go into second base against them," he said.

To which an agitated Guillen replied:

"Next time I come even harder then."

At least if they're going to go down, they'll go down fighting. Or so it seemed to Robinson, who after the game looked strangely relieved, saying "The effort was there today, I told them that after the game. If we could come up with that every time then we'll be okay."

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