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Braves can’t catch a break as the Nationals power to 7-4 win

    ATLANTA — A loss to Washington left the Braves talking about the need to sweep the New York Mets in a series beginning Monday. But even that might not be enough to revive Atlanta’s playoff hopes.

    Ryan Church hit a three-run homer to give Washington the lead, D’Angelo Jimenez drove in three runs with three hits and the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 on Sunday.

    The Braves trail the New York Mets by 8 1/2 games in the division, their largest deficit of the season. They began the day 4 1/2 games behind San Diego in the wild card.

    The Braves led 3-1 through five innings before Church hit the go-ahead homer off Lance Cormier in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman also went deep as Washington sent the Braves to their fifth loss on a nine-game homestand.

    The Braves’ best comeback hope ended when Chipper Jones, who hit a two-run homer in the first, hit a bases-loaded groundout to end the seventh.

    ‘‘We had the right guy up there with Chipper,’’ said Braves manager Bobby Cox. ‘‘He just can’t do it every time.’’

    Neither can the Braves, who made every playoff field from 1991-2005 before falling short last year.

    ‘‘The goal doesn’t change, although now we have to have the mindset that we have to sweep them,’’ Jones said of the three-game series with the Mets. ‘‘Of course, we had that mindset the last time they came in here and we got swept.’’

    Jason Bergmann (4-5) gave up two hits in the first, including Jones’ two-run shot, but yielded only two hits and one more run over the next five innings.

    Overall, Bergmann gave up four hits and three runs in six innings to win his second straight start. He struck out six with two walks.

    Chad Cordero worked the ninth for his 32nd save in 40 chances.

    Dmitri Young hit a one-out single to left in the sixth inning, then chugged to third on Kearns’ double to center. Church followed by hitting a 3-2 pitch over the 400-foot mark in center for a three-run homer, giving the Nationals a 4-3 lead.

    ‘‘We were trying to not give into him,’’ Cormier said. ‘‘We had a base open and I didn’t make the pitch I needed to make. It’s very disappointing. ... The guys gave me the lead and I just didn’t keep it.’’

    Cormier (2-5) struck out Church on breaking balls in the second and fourth innings before giving up the homer on a pitch so flat Church said he didn’t know it was supposed to be a curveball.

    ‘‘I was able to stay on it,’’ Church said. ‘‘In that situation, you want to elevate the ball. ... It took nine pitches to finally get it. I didn’t in my first two at-bats.’’

    Cormier gave up seven hits and four runs with a walk and five strikeouts in six innings.

    Willie Harris led off the first with a double to right and scored on Jones’ 25th homer.

    The Nationals scored only one run in the third on three hits and a walk. Jesus Flores led off with a single to left, moved to second on Bergmann’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a single to right by Jimenez.

    With the bases loaded following a single by Ronnie Belliard, a groundout by Zimmerman and an intentional walk to Young, Austin Kearns grounded out to second base to end the inning.

    The Braves took a 3-1 lead in the third when Jones walked and scored on Mark Teixeira’s double to the wall in center.

    Pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans led off the seventh with a bunt single off Peter Moylan and scored on a double to right by Jimenez.

    The Braves couldn’t answer in the bottom of the seventh. They loaded the bases against Luis Ayala, but left-hander Arnie Munoz ended the threat with Jones’ grounder to second.

    ‘‘What made the difference is it’s September and I’ve never seen the guy before,’’ Jones said of Munoz. ‘‘When you don’t know what a guy’s got, what his tendencies are, it’s advantage, pitcher. ... I got myself out trying to make something happen.’’

    Teixeira led off the eighth with a homer off Jon Rauch, but Zimmerman answered with a homer off Jose Ascanio in the ninth.

Notes: The Braves are 7-2 at home against the Nationals and 31-34 in all other home games. ... Jimenez hit leadoff for the first time this season as SS Felipe Lopez was given a rest until coming in the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement.

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