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Smoltz falls in series finale

Smoltz, Braves drop finale to Nationals

ATLANTA -- Willie Nelson's song lyrics to "On the Road Again" couldn't better express the sentiment resonating through the Atlanta locker room after the Braves capped off their 10-game homestand with another loss. This loss, Atlanta's eighth of the homestand, was a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Nationals in front of 32,001 fans at Turner Field, proving why the Braves "just can't wait to get on the road again."

"You never know how those things work, but we need to get something going," Ryan Langerhans said. "Maybe getting back on the road is exactly what we need."

When Atlanta arrived home on May 29, everything seemed to be falling into place. The Braves were a season-best four games above .500 and trailed the first-place Mets by only 3 1/2 games. And they arrived home riding the momentum of a 6-3 road trip.

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But after going 2-8 at home since then, the Braves are in dire need of a change of scenery. They have dropped back to third place in the National League East and to two games below the .500 mark.

"I don't know if we've ever had one like this," manager Bobby Cox said regarding the dismal homestand. "After winning so many on the road, we thought we'd do well at home. It just didn't happen."

Lost in the defeat was another stellar outing from Atlanta's John Smoltz, who took his second consecutive loss as the offense struggled to provide him with ample run support.

Even after being roughed up in his past few starts, after each one, Smoltz insisted that he was feeling good. His pitches were there, his location was on target, he said. And on Wednesday, he showed more of the same.

Smoltz showed why he has been the Braves' most consistent starter throughout the season, striking out eight in seven innings of work. And for most of the night, Smoltz seemed poised to step up and pull what would have been a much-needed, confidence-boosting win like he has so many times in his career.

But the three-run dent Washington put on the scoreboard against the right-hander in the sixth proved too big a deficit for a struggling Atlanta offense to climb out of.

"He had lights-out stuff tonight," Cox said. "He hasn't thrown better any time this year. He had an easy inning going, 0-2 [count], two outs, and then made that pitch to [Nick] Johnson."

That pitch to Johnson was rocked into center field for a double. A subsequent double and a Marlon Anderson home run later and Atlanta was quickly staring up out of a three-run hole.

"He had a great at-bat [at] 0-2," said Smoltz, who allowed only three hits outside of the sixth inning. "At that time. I thought it was a harmless double, but three runs later, I was shaking my head."

After the game, so was the offense, which couldn't seem to find an answer for Washington starter Ramon Ortiz. Like Livan Hernandez on Monday night, Ortiz entered his start without a career win against the Braves.

But just as Hernandez notched that first victory two nights before, Ortiz earned one for himself. He limited the Braves to only two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings.

"We've hit Ortiz before, but this year we haven't," Cox said. "He's a much better pitcher right now, can make the ball move and throw his offspeed stuff with strikes."

Atlanta's inability to generate a consistent offense has been something that plagued them throughout the rough 10-day span. Only twice did the Braves knock their opponents for more than five runs in a game.

But instead of dwelling on the myriad negatives after the game, the players packed their bags with their heads held high.

They're heading on the road again. And maybe that's just what they need.

"We need to keep our heads up," said Pete Orr, who hit his second career home run while pinch-hitting in the seventh inning. "We can't look at the past. We've got to look forward to tomorrow."

Jenifer Langosch is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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