ATLANTA -- Instead of halting the woes that have mounted as this week has progressed, the Braves watched Tim Hudson experience a frustrating outing that still might have been celebrated if not for the one ill-fated pitch delivered to Ryan Zimmerman.
After enduring a four-run first inning at Turner Field on Friday night, Hudson cruised through the next five innings and the first two batters he faced in the seventh. But instead of setting his teammates up for what would have been a much-welcomed exhilarating comeback victory, the veteran pitcher was simply setting the stage for more disappointment.
Zimmmerman delivered the knockout blow later in the seventh inning with a two-out, three-run double that chased Hudson and gave the first-place Nationals all they needed to extend their division lead over the Braves with a 7-4 victory.
"It's frustrating, we score four runs, I feel like we should win the ballgame," Hudson said. "You've got to tip your hat to those guys. They had the opportunities to score, and they capitalized."
This has been a trying week for the Braves, who have lost a season-high five straight games and six of their past seven. They can take solace in the fact that they trail the Nationals by just two games in the National League East.
But it was hard for Hudson to look at the bright side after he allowed the Nationals seven earned runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Each of the runs scored with two outs, and Zimmerman's decisive double was produced against an 0-2 cut fastball that found too much of the plate.
"If I get Zimmerman 0-2, nine times out of 10 he's not going to get a base hit," Hudson said. "Either I'm going to throw a better pitch, or he's going to take it for a ball, or I'm going to get a strikeout."
Zimmerman had doubled in the four-run first inning. The Nationals' third baseman entered the game hitting just .174 (8-for-46) against Hudson, and this factored into Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez's decision to allow his veteran pitcher to continue pitching after he showed sudden signs of tiring in the seventh inning.
After surviving a 33-pitch, four-run first, Hudson found a groove and had retired 16 of 18 batters before managing to issue a five-pitch walk to Nationals reliever Chien-Ming Wang with two outs in the decisive seventh.
When Steve Lombardozzi followed with a double, the Braves opted to allow Hudson to carefully pitch to Bryce Harper, who drew a walk to load the bases. After looking at one strike and swinging through another, Zimmerman made the Braves' veteran pitcher pay for his final mistake of the night.
"Obviously there are all kinds of options that run through your head," Gonzalez said. "But with the matchup with Zimmerman there, you felt it was good. It was an 0-2 ball that got out over the plate. If that ball sinks or breaks another inch, we wouldn't even be talking about it. I thought the way Huddy pitched, he deserved to be out there for that at-bat."
Instead of being down one run, the Braves stared at a four-run deficit when they took their turn to bat in the bottom of the seventh. This proved a little more maddening when Jason Heyward drilled what could have been a game-tying solo home run off Wang in the eighth inning.
"Obviously the [big blow] is walking the pitcher," Hudson said. "It's where things started going wrong. It's just frustrating. We should have won the ballgame. I was a couple pitches from throwing a shutout. Instead, I gave up seven runs. It was just one of those nights."
Actually, this night was so much different than many of the previous ones Hudson had experienced against the Nationals. He was 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA in 23 career starts against the club, and he had allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of those outings.
"I thought we did a good job going after him in the first inning," Zimmerman said. "After that, he settled in. We continued to grind it out, and got some runs and some big hits late."
Zimmerman fueled the first inning with a double, and scored on Ian Desmond's two-out, two-run single. Two batters later, former Brave Rick Ankiel drilled a two-run triple that gave Nationals starting pitcher Ross Detwiler a 4-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
Hudson felt he had Danny Espinosa struck out before hitting the Nationals' infielder with a pitch just ahead of Ankiel's triple. But unlike his April 29 start against the Pirates, he did not exchange words with plate umpire Doug Eddings.
Martin Prado led the Braves' offense with a three-hit performance that included two doubles and a triple. Matt Diaz drove in three of Atlanta's four runs. He singled with two outs in the fourth inning, and collected a fifth-inning two-run double that was tarnished when he unsuccessfully attempted to extend it to a triple.
Still, by the end of the night, most of the talk centered around Hudson's fatal seventh-inning mistake.
"I felt like I had enough gas," Hudson said. "I felt like it was a good matchup. I didn't hold up my end of the bargain this time. I don't fault [Gonzalez] at all for keeping me out there. I mean, I didn't want to come out of the game. I felt like it was my game to win or lose out there. Obviously, hindsight's always 20/20."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.