Braves lose 14-inning finale to Nats

Braves lose 14-inning finale

ATLANTA -- By the time the day concluded, there was reason to point some of the blame toward Brian McCann and Jeff Bennett. But if Blaine Boyer had simply found a way to halt his increasingly glaring troubles, the Braves would have been home celebrating a win long before McCann and Bennett even entered what became a drawn-out affair.

Four outs from claiming their third win in a four-game series against the Nationals, the Braves saw Boyer surrender a game-tying eighth-inning double that eventually forced manager Bobby Cox to utilize every available member of his bullpen. The skipper even sent a starting pitcher to the plate as a pinch-hitter to record his third career plate appearance.

Because of his recent workload, Cox had no intentions of utilizing Bennett on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field. But he was forced to, and shortly after exiting the empty bullpen, the right-handed reliever allowed Elijah Dukes to stroke a three-run double that carried the Nationals to a 7-4, 14-inning win over the Braves.

"It was the same old story," Chipper Jones said. "We can't get outs in the seventh and eighth innings to get the ball to [closer Mike Gonzalez]. You like to see games you have within your grasp to be won."

Because Boyer, who has an 11.49 ERA in his past 20 appearances, squandered another lead, and the offense recorded just one hit in the final seven at-bats with runners in scoring position, the storyline was certainly familiar to the Braves.

But over the course of this four-hour, 34-minute game, during which the teams combined to use 51 players (Braves 28, Nationals 23) and throw 477 pitches (Braves 255, Nationals 222), this particular story proved to be much longer than necessary.

"You're sitting here, thinking, 'It's the 14th inning, and we've had to use all of these pitchers because I didn't do my job,'" said Boyer, who served as the third of the 10 pitchers utilized by the Braves.

In the end, it was the walk that Bennett issued to begin the 14th inning that accounted for the decisive run. But the most costly free pass of the day was the two-out walk that Boyer issued to Luke Montz, who has gone hitless in the nine career at-bats he's recorded since making his Major League debut on Friday.

"I've got no business walking that guy," Boyer said, pretty much echoing what Cox said during his postgame address.

After Boyer issued the five-pitch walk to Montz, Alberto Gonzalez directed a game-tying, two-run double down the right-field line. One inning earlier, Gonzalez had collected his first career homer off Julian Tavarez to cut the Braves' lead to 4-2.

"It just wasn't a good pitch and [Gonzalez] nailed it," Boyer said. "That's the story of the season."

Because of Boyer's inability to record the final out of the eighth inning, Jo-Jo Reyes was denied the opportunity to realize a rare happy ending. After limiting the Nationals to one run and four hits over six inning, the 23-year-old southpaw was in line to earn his first win since June 13.

"It's not fun losing as a team," said Reyes, who was damaged only by Milledge's second-inning leadoff homer.

Long after Reyes exited and all other relief options were exhausted, Cox was forced to call upon Bennett, who had provided two scoreless innings on Saturday. Pitching for the third time in four days, the right-handed reliever issued a leadoff walk to Anderson Hernandez, and then got in more trouble when Willie Harris followed with an infield single.

Three batters later, with the bases loaded, Dukes ripped his game-winner past third base and into the left-field corner. The Braves had squandered plenty of previous opportunities to produce this decisive moment.

Atlanta produced at least one baserunner in each of the final six innings. Their best scoring opportunity came when the first two batters of the 11th inning reached against Saul Rivera. But Rivera responded with consecutive strikeouts of McCann and Gregor Blanco, then got Martin Prado to pop out to end the inning.

McCann was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter to drive in the winning run. But because he was battling some late-afternoon shadows and thinking he hadn't had previous success against Rivera, the All-Star catcher attempted to bunt a first-pitch changeup.

When he fouled the pitch, he found himself in a hole he couldn't escape against Rivera, who he'd actually tagged for three hits in six previous career at-bats. In fairness to McCann, he'd recorded two of those hits during his first two at-bats against Rivera in 2006 and had struck out against him during Saturday night's 10-inning loss.

"I probably shouldn't have [tried to bunt], because [Cox] would have sent up a pitcher to do that," McCann said. "I started to think about it after the at-bat and realized that probably wasn't smart."

After Dukes gave the Nationals a three-run lead, Cox was forced to pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson, who had battled cramps in his calf during the previous five innings. This prompted the entry of James Parr, who had recorded his only two previous plate appearances while tossing six solid innings during his Major League debut on Thursday.

Further prolonging the afternoon, Joel Hanrahan issued Parr a seven-pitch walk and then allowed a double to Escobar. But with runners at second and third, the Braves encountered another disappointing conclusion with a groundout from Jeff Francoeur, who, many hours earlier, had popped out to end the first inning with the bases loaded.

"We got a lot of hits, but not when they counted after we got the first three or four runs," Cox said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.