They put four runners on base in the first inning and forced Washington starter Matt Chico to throw 37 pitches. But Atlanta couldn't score. Then, the Braves got runners on first and third with two outs in the second before coming up empty there.
Those missed opportunities proved costly as the Nationals took charge with a three-run third, and the Braves wasted several good scoring chances and couldn't recover from the early deficit as Washington pulled out a 5-1 victory on a very cold Monday night at RFK Stadium.
The Braves finished with only five hits but created some good scoring chances, especially in those first two innings. Chris Woodward led off the game with a single, but Edgar Renteria grounded into a double play. Chico then walked Chipper and Andruw Jones plus Jeff Francoeur before Brian McCann flied out to end the inning.
The Braves (8-4) then put runners on first and third with two outs in the second, thanks to a hit batter and a Nationals (4-9) error. But Renteria ended the inning by flying to right.
"We had six runners on in the first two innings, and that's a lot of runners not to score one," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We just couldn't get [hits] at the right time."
The Braves eventually left a total of nine runners on base and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Washington did a little better, going 2-for-9 in that situation, but it proved enough for the victory.
The problems with hitting in the clutch proved costly to Braves starter Chuck James (2-1). He allowed three runs on five hits in five innings but threw well. He had given up only one run in 11 innings in his first two starts and blanked the Nationals through six innings last week in Atlanta.
The 47-degree, windy weather didn't affect James much on this night. His biggest problem came in the third, when the Nationals got four straight hits and three runs in a two-out rally. Ryan Zimmerman's RBI single made it 1-0, and Dmitri Young followed with a two-run double for a three-run edge.
"I felt good; I wasn't cold or [anything]," James said. "It was just that big inning. It happens sometimes. That's just the way it goes."
The Braves pushed across a run without a hit in the sixth. Francoeur and McCann ended Chico's night with leadoff walks in the sixth. Saul Rivera relieved Chico (1-1), and pinch-hitter Scott Thorman later knocked in a run on a groundout.
The most interesting moment after that came in the bottom of the eighth, when the Nationals scored their final two runs. Brian Schneider drew a bases-loaded walk off Mike Gonzalez to make it 4-1 before Chris Snelling appeared to ground into an inning-ending double play.
But second-base umpire Sam Holbrook said that second baseman Woodward didn't step on the base. Woodward had tried to brush the side of the base after fielding the ball before throwing to first. The Braves thought he touched the base, but the umpire didn't, letting another run in.
"It was pretty close," Woodward said. "I could kind of feel it on the side of my toes. My foot was up against the base, but I wasn't directly on it. That's probably what he saw."
Cox thought Woodward's foot hit the inside of the bag, which is why Cox came out and argued immediately and eventually got thrown out after the eighth inning. It was his 125th ejection, and the skipper now is second in baseball history behind John McGraw (131).
"I've never seen a call like that -- ever," Cox said.
It was just a difficult night all around for the Braves, who showed frustration at times. This was their first road loss of the season, and they've dropped three of their last four games.
Everything also seemed to go against them on this night, an evening better suited for football than baseball, with gusts of 18-25 mph wind to go along with the cold. The Braves missed the scoring chances, wasted some good pitching and just came up short.
"I think it's a little bit of everything right now," Francouer said. "We felt we should have won tonight. ... It's just some frustration all around."
Jeff Siedel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.