Struggling Braves center fielder B.J. Upton looped an opposite-field, broken-bat single with one out off Henry Rodriguez to score pinch-runner Jordan Schafer as Atlanta beat Washington, 2-1, in 10 innings Saturday night at Turner Field.
"It was a competitive game. Everyone battled. I'm proud of these guys," said Gonzalez, who had his most successful start in three this season against Atlanta, even though he didn't earn a decision. "I'm not disappointed at all in the way these guys played. They're playing their hearts out."
While the Nationals battled, they're also kicking themselves for missing a golden opportunity to take the lead in the ninth inning before losing in the 10th, when Rodriguez (0-1), allowed a leadoff walk, his first of two in the inning, a stolen base, then the winning hit to Upton, who had been in a 2-for-19 funk.
"It's one thing not holding runners on. It's another not throwing strikes," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "You can't walk people. He didn't come close to the first guy."
That first guy was catcher Evan Gattis, who earned a four-pitch walk and was replaced by Schafer.
Atlanta's cashing in Rodriguez's leadoff free pass was frustrating, but perhaps as vexing to Johnson was the opportunity that Washington didn't cash in against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had two of Washington's five hits, and first baseman Adam LaRoche, a combined 0-for-12 against Kimbrel heading into the ninth inning, opened the frame with a broken-bat flair to center and a double to right-center, putting runners at second and third. But Kimbrel struck out Ian Desmond, got Roger Bernadina to ground into a 5-2 fielder's choice, with Zimmerman getting thrown out at home, then retired Danny Espinosa on a fly ball to shallow left.
"We just didn't get it done," said Johnson. "We had [Kimbrel] in a jam. All we had to do is put the ball in play. A little sac fly. It's frustrating."
He's an unbelievable pitcher," said Desmond, who had a 2-1 count but fouled off a slider, then took a 98-mph fastball on the outside edge. "You don't get to the success he's had by just luck. You tip your cap. He froze me up."
The loss dropped the Nats to 3-6 this season against the Braves, 1-3 on their five-game mini road swing and gave them a 15-16 record in their stretch of 32 straight games, which ends Sunday.
It also ruined a superb night by Gonzalez, who looked to end a four-start winless streak, his longest as a Nat. He pitched well enough to do so, holding Atlanta to one run and three hits over seven innings, but he would not be around for the decision.
Gonzalez, who came in 0-2 against the Braves in 2013 with an ERA of 12.00 and a three-game losing streak against them dating back to last year, kept Atlanta off balance all night. The Braves' lone run off him was scratched out on a couple of singles and a groundout by shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Gonzalez struck out seven and walked one, and threw 72 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
The left-hander credited catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"It was [Suzuki] calling a great game," said Gonzalez. "Attacking the strike zone, really going after them as much as possible. I didn't want to walk anybody. I wanted to go after them. I had great defense, guys made some great plays for me. It's one of those games. It was fun to watch between two starting pitchers."
Atlanta pitcher Tim Hudson matched Gonzalez. Hudson, 2-0 against Washington with a 1.29 ERA and a 16-5 career mark with a 2.55 ERA, allowed only one unearned run and three hits over his 7 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking one. He would not get a decision after throwing 108 pitches, 69 for strikes
The Nationals answered Atlanta's run in the top of the fourth, as Steve Lombardozzi reached on an error by first baseman Freddie Freeman, then used his hustle to go from first to third on a ground ball to short. He scored on a two-out single to left by Desmond.
After the RBI groundout, Gonzalez retired 13 of his final 15 hitters and nine of his final 10. He came up big in the fifth, pitching around a leadoff double and recording the final two outs with a runner at third.
Washington spun its wheels offensively as well. After Desmond's RBI knock, the Nationals managed only an infield hit and a walk, both with two outs in the sixth off Hudson, who retired 11 of the final 13 he faced.
Washington concludes the series on Sunday, with a day game, which Gonzalez believes will help alleviate some of the hurt of Saturday night.
"We're not going to sit here and complain about what happened. That's baseball," he said. "Our job is to turn the page and make sure we go after them again tomorrow."
"We're putting our better foot forward now. I think that's a huge step in the right direction," said Desmond. "Getting walked-off on is brutal but at the same time, we gave them a little more of a fight than we have in the past."