Bill Ladson

Nats can't overcome early deficit in Beltways finale

Gio allows four runs (three earned) over 6 2/3 innings; Werth homers

Nats can't overcome early deficit in Beltways finale

BALTIMORE -- Left-hander Gio Gonzalez wasn't as invincible as he was in his previous three starts as the Nationals were edged by the Orioles, 4-3, at Camden Yards on Thursday night. Washington and the Braves are now tied for first place in the National League East, after the Braves defeated the Mets at Citi Field.

The Orioles went to work on Gonzalez in the first inning, when Steve Pearce swung at a 2-0 pitch and hit a home run over the left-field wall. The home run snapped Gonzalez's scoreless streak of 22 innings.

By the third inning, Baltimore had a 4-0 lead. Nick Markakis scored on a double by Adam Jones. Nelson Cruz followed and hit a grounder to shortstop Ian Desmond, who tried to get Jones at third. But Desmond threw the ball away, allowing Jones to follow home Pearce with Baltimore's fourth run. Manager Matt Williams thought Desmond had a play at first, but Desmond disagreed.

"I thought I had a play at third, too," Desmond said. "It's just one of those instant plays. If you watch the games, you have seen me make that play before. The ball just got away from me. You take chances and sometimes you have to pay for those consequences."

Gonzalez lasted 6 2/3 innings and allowed the four runs -- three earned -- on six hits.

"I felt fine. After the first two innings, I found my groove. I was going out there and attacking the strike zone," Gonzalez said. "It's a tough lineup. You go against these guys, all the way down to the last guy. It's definitely a battle, trying to mix it up and trying to go out there and work a tough game."

By the sixth inning, Washington would make it a one-run game. In the fourth, Williams decided to take advantage of instant replay and was able to get a call overturned in the Nationals' favor.

With Anthony Rendon on first base and Adam LaRcohe at the plate, Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen threw a pitch that appeared inside for a ball, but Williams went to home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor and said that LaRoche was hit by the pitch. After 58 seconds, the call was overturned, while runners were placed on first and second.

"You could hear it. I heard it, anyway. I figured we would go out there and have another look," Williams said regarding LaRoche being hit.

It paid off for the Nationals, as Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate and singled to center field, scoring Anthony Rendon to make it 4-1.

Two innings later, the Nationals rallied and made it close. Jayson Werth led off with a home run over the left-field wall. It was his second home run in as many nights and his 10th of the season. Four batters later, Zimmerman scored on a double by Desmond to make it a 4-3 game.

The Nationals had a chance to at least tie the score against right-hander Darren O'Day in the eighth. Washington had the bases loaded with two outs, but Wilson Ramos flied out to Jones in center field to end the threat. Washington ended up going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"It's part of baseball. You create those opportunities and that all you can ask for," Williams said. [The Orioles] have a good club. They took advantage of a mistake and we battled back, just not enough tonight."

It truly became the Battle of the Beltways. All three games were competitive with the Orioles taking two out of three. The next time they face each other will be Aug. 4 at Nationals Park, when the clubs make up Tuesday's game, which was postponed because of rain.

"Everyone kept saying it was a good series, very well put together," Gonzalez said. "There is a lot of hope for the Beltway Series. They looked good, we looked good. It was a fun game all around. Everybody had some fun. We all got some smiles out of it. At the end of the day, we have to go out there and do our job."

Jones indicated that the Nationals and Orioles could meet in October when the leaves turn brown.

"I think it's good for the DMV area that both teams are playing quite well, especially this late into the season," Jones said. "We're both first place in our respective divisions. That's a good team. That's a great pitching staff on top of baseball, if not the top. The bullpen's electric.

"That's a very good team. You raise the competition. We love it. We love the competition, and we love the fact that you never know what could happen in October. You could have a Battle of the Beltways when it's a little colder and bring the fans back out."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.