WASHINGTON — When Braves baserunners Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn both found themselves near the bag at second during a rundown, it looked like the sort of mistake that plagues a team on its way to wasting a chance to make the playoffs.
Seconds later, when Bourn wound up scoring an odd-as-can-be run on the play, he was greeted by laughter and high-fives in the dugout.
"A little crazy way to add on a run in the ninth," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said, "but we'll take it right now."
Yes, this was a game the Braves needed badly. Jones, Dan Uggla and others knocked around Stephen Strasburg a bit in a three-run first inning, and Atlanta beat the Washington Nationals 7-4 Friday night to increase its lead in the NL wild-card standings to three games.
"That was a good play. It energized us," said Bourn, who stole two bases to raise his majors-leading total to 58.
Then, after speaking specifically about the ninth-inning rundown that padded Atlanta's margin against Washington, he added: "I think the whole game is what energized us."
The Braves had lost eight of their previous 12 games, and they entered Friday with their once-hefty edge over the St. Louis Cardinals for a postseason berth down to two games. But St. Louis lost 5-1 to the Chicago Cubs.
Atlanta's magic number to clinch a wild-card berth is now three.
"Good, good momentum boost tonight," Jones said.
The only damper on the evening was that right-hander Tim Hudson (16-10) headed to the hospital to get treated for cramping near his neck after pitching 5 2-3 innings for the Braves. During his final inning, the sixth, Hudson was visited on the mound by Gonzalez and a team trainer but stayed in to face four more batters.
Gonzalez said after the game that Hudson went to the hospital "to get some fluids in him" and called it "nothing serious." The manager said Hudson "has a history of" cramping.
"It's well documented that he cramps up every once in a while. That's what happened," Gonzalez said. "It was a lot more humid than we expected for September here, but he's fine, other than that."
Atlanta's rookie closer, Craig Kimbrel, got three outs for his 46th save in 53 chances.
Uggla finished with three hits and two RBIs, including a run-scoring single while Strasburg (0-1) labored at the outset of the game, which began 14 minutes late because of rain. The right-hander, coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery, allowed four hits in an inning for the first time in the majors, according to STATS LLC.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg was too "amped up" and "a little hyper" at the beginning of the game and "really started to overthrow it."
Strasburg needed 38 pitches — spread across 18 minutes — to get through the top of the first. He faced eight batters and gave up three runs, two earned.
"I got some pitches up. If I would have got the ball down, they would have been ground balls," said Strasburg, who was making the fourth start of his comeback from reconstructive elbow surgery.
He explained that he found that he was "trying to slow down, trying to stay within myself."
Strasburg allowed consecutive singles to Martin Prado, Jones and Uggla, and later a two-out RBI single to Freddie Freeman that made it 2-0. Jack Wilson then hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The ball bounced off Zimmerman's right wrist, between his legs and trailed off into left field for an error that scored Uggla.
Collin Balester replaced Strasburg for the fifth and walked two batters before serving up Uggla's RBI double. And that was it for Balester, who was charged with three runs, because the next reliever, Atahualpa Severino, was greeted by Brian McCann's two-run double.
Hudson, meanwhile, did what he nearly always does against the Nationals: win. He's 14-3 against them. The righty gave up a bunch of hits, nine in all, but limited the scoring to three runs.
Jayson Werth hit his 20th homer in the eighth off Jonny Venters, one of four relievers used by Atlanta. It was only the third homer off Venters in the 169 innings he's pitched in the majors.
That made it 6-4. But the Braves tacked on an extra run in the ninth when the Nationals blew the rundown, left home plate uncovered, and let Bourn trot in to score on a fielder's choice groundout by Jones that wound being scored 1-6-5-3-4.
"A lot of things happened there," Johnson said.
NOTES: Strasburg allowed five singles, struck out three, walked none and left with Washington trailing 3-1 in his last home start of 2011. It was his fourth appearance this season and the 16th of his career. ... The Braves send RHP Brandon Beachy (7-2) to the mound to face Nationals RHP Chien-Ming Wang (3-3) on Saturday. The teams wrap up the three-game series Sunday, with LHP Mike Minor (5-2) pitching for Atlanta against LHP Ross Detwiler (3-5).