WASHINGTON -- Adam Eaton tossed his bat in the air and began ripping off his elbow guard. With the bases loaded in the sixth inning Wednesday night, he represented the potential tying run, but he swung through strike three, spoiling a golden opportunity for a Nationals comeback.
His at-bat served as a microcosm for this game and series for the Nationals, who stranded 11 runners on base in an 8-3 loss to the Braves at Nationals Park after Tommy Milone gave up three home runs to put Washington into an early hole. The Nats were given the opportunity to make up some ground against one of the team's in front of them in the National League East and put themselves in strong position to make this division race much more interesting down the stretch.
They have not capitalized on that chance and need a win Thursday to avoid falling even further back in the standings. They trail the first-place Phillies, who lost earlier in the day, by six games, and they trail the Braves by 5 1/2 games for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"I don't think it was a game that we gave away by any stretch of the imagination," Eaton said. "They had some big homers and we made some big pushes, but again, if I come up and hit a bases-clearing double, the game's completely different."
The Nats started the game by sending seven batters to the plate but scoring only one run in the first against Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz, who gave up three runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.
And the home bench got fired up in the sixth inning after Juan Soto was ejected from the game by home-plate umpire Greg Gibson for arguing balls and strikes. Bryce Harper had just hit a solo home run leading off the frame, but before the crowd of 30,203 settled down after the homer, Soto was thrown out of the game before he even saw a pitch for telling Gibson that the pitch that ended his last at-bat was a ball. Hitting coach Kevin Long was also ejected.
"I was more surprised," Soto said. "I didn't think he was going to toss me out. I didn't say anything."
Milone's third start as a substitute for Stephen Strasburg in the rotation did not go smoothly. He surrendered a three-run homer to Charlie Culberson in the second inning, and a pair of two-run homers in the fourth to Tyler Flowers and Ronald Acuna Jr., who also took away a homer from Matt Adams in the bottom of the inning. Manager Dave Martinez pushed Milone through six innings, but not before he was tagged for seven runs on 10 hits.
And the Nats could not rally back from the deficit. They would go on to threaten in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs for Eaton, before he struck out on a slider from Luke Jackson.
"I thought Gibson kind of fired us up and motivated us, to be honest with you," Eaton said. "But again I didn't come up with the big hit ... unfortunate. I'm upset with myself. You always want to get it done. Especially in that situation where we're making a push."
This was the first time Soto could ever recall being ejected in his life. He was not warned and did not use any expletives. Before the at-bat started, Soto told Gibson the pitch he was called for strike three on in his previous at-bat in the fourth inning was a ball to "make sure he can understand and be better, and help him help us."
Crew chief Jerry Layne offered an explanation after speaking with Gibson: "Soto came up to home plate and was arguing the balls and strikes, I think it might've been the previous at-bat. I think it was the previous at-bat. And Greg threw him out of the game because he was speaking displeasure about, 'It wasn't a strike, it's a ball.' Basically, arguing balls and strikes."
HE SAID IT
"It's bad on both sides. I think it just caught up with some people. I don't know if Soto is the one to talk back, because we do need him in the lineup. It's frustrating, it's definitely frustrating. But nothing we can do." -- Harper, on Soto's ejection
"We've got to tie the series [Thursday]. I think that's our biggest view right now." -- Eaton, after dropping two of the first three games vs. the Braves
The Nationals wrap up this four-game series against the Braves with Thursday's finale at 1:05 p.m. ET. Giovany Gonzalez will take the mound, trying to bust out of a slump. He has posted a 6.06 ERA since the All-Star break. Anibal Sanchez will be the starting pitcher for Atlanta. The game will be broadcast live only on Facebook Watch.