WASHINGTON – Five pitches into the bottom of the first inning, the Washington Nationals had made history and provided ace Gio Gonzalez with a two-run cushion against the Atlanta Braves.
After that fine start Sunday, the Nationals couldn't come up with any more offense and Gonzalez was not his usual dominating self. The result was a 3-2 defeat that reduced Washington's lead in the NL East over Miami to three percentage points.
Washington's Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper became the first rookies in modern baseball history to open a game with successive homers, the Nationals said in citing the Elias Sports Bureau. Lombardozzi connected on a 2-1 pitch and Harper sent Tommy Hanson's next pitch into the right-field seats.
And that, as it turned out, was the extent of Washington's scoring against the Atlanta right-hander.
Seeking to win his sixth straight start, Gonzalez (7-2) was uncharacteristically wild. He needed 91 pitches to get through 4 2-3 innings, allowing three runs, seven hits and three walks. He also threw two wild pitches in his shortest and least effective performance since April 7.
"I wouldn't say it was a bad outing. It was just one of those outings when you just look at the positive," Gonzalez said. "I was going out there, trying to compete and stay in the game as long as possible. Obviously, their pitcher did a great job."
After his poor start, Hanson (6-4) blanked Washington over the next six innings to help the Braves end a six-game skid against their NL East rivals. Hanson allowed two runs, six hits and no walks in seven innings.
"I just tried to keep on strong and keep us in the game," he said.
Eric O'Flaherty worked the eighth and Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth for his 16th save in 17 tries.
Harper and Danny Espinoza had two hits apiece for the Nationals, who have lost four of five.
Jason Heyward drove in two runs for the Braves, who had won only two of their previous 11 games. That slide included four losses to Washington by a combined 25-10 score.
"You want to win every day possible, but when they jumped out and we were able to come back against another ace, it's huge," Heyward said. "That's our first win against that team this year. They're a good team and they have great players. It's just huge momentum-wise, confidence-wise."
Atlanta scored two runs in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. After an infield hit, two walks and two wild pitches loaded the bases with two outs, Heyward lined a two-run single to chase Gonzalez.
"I was falling behind on guys, especially good hitters like that," Gonzalez said. "I just couldn't get it in there. Hopefully I turn that around next start."
Heyward contributed defensively in the bottom half. Harper hit a one-out liner off the right-field wall that Heyward grabbed and threw to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose relay to third baseman Martin Prado was just in time to ruin Harper's bid for a triple.
After Hanson left, O'Flaherty walked the first two batters he faced in the eighth. He then got Ryan Zimmerman to hit into a double play and retired Adam LaRoche on a fly to deep left.
"I hit the ball decent," Zimmerman said. "Unfortunately, I hit it right at a guy."
Hanson needed only five pitches to put Atlanta into a 2-0 hole. Lombardozzi got things started with his first big league homer on a 2-1 pitch.
"I definitely would have taken the win instead," Lombardozzi said.
Harper connected on Hanson's next offering.
"I wasn't happy with the first home run, but the second one I didn't think was that bad of a pitch," Hanson said. "That's where I wanted to go and he just hit it good. He's a good player."
After allowing only five home runs in his first 10 starts this season, Hanson has yielded four long balls in his last two outings. Not that it mattered.
"Gio Gonzalez has unbelievable stuff, so it's good to kind of get a win here," Hanson said.
Simmons got his first major league hit in the second inning, a two-out double that moved David Ross to third with two outs. But Hanson struck out to end the threat.
The Braves closed to 2-1 in the third when Prado singled and scored on Dan Uggla's two-out double.
NOTES: The Nationals purchased the contract of LHP Mike Gonzalez from Triple-A Syracuse and optioned reliever Ryan Perry to the same minor league club. Gonzalez pitched a scoreless eighth. ... The Nationals and Braves both have Monday off. ... Washington fell to 16-9 at home. ... Braves C Brian McCann, who bruised his left knee Saturday, did not play.