WASHINGTON -- Things looked pretty bleak to Jose Guillen.
His Washington Nationals were trailing the Atlanta Braves by four runs, their bullpen was weary, their offense was quiet again, and a fourth consecutive loss seemingly was on the horizon, another blow to fast-fading wild-card hopes.
So Guillen turned to teammate Carlos Baerga in the dugout and told him what he thought: Unless we come back here, forget about the playoffs.
Then, with plenty of help, Guillen went out and did something about it, breaking a tie with a two-run double in the eighth inning for his 1,000th career hit to cap Washington's 8-6 victory over NL East leader Atlanta on Friday night.
"I'm pretty sure if we lost," Guillen said, "the season was done."
Wild-card leader Houston's 7-4 loss to Milwaukee allowed Washington to pull within three games of the Astros.
"We're still alive," Vinny Castilla said. "We showed today that we still believe."
Castilla's upper-deck solo homer off reliever Kyle Davies cut Washington's deficit to 6-4 in the seventh.
"We should have won that game," Davies said.
The win was similar in so many ways to several that came when the Nationals were starting 50-31 and occupying first place. The rally. The final margin. The bullpen work, including Chad Cordero's 1-2-3 ninth inning for his club-record 44th save. And the clutch hit from Guillen.
"I forgot about him," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.
Even Guillen acknowledged: "I don't know when was the last time I had a big hit like that at home to win a game."
When Davies walked the first two batters in the eighth - pinch-hitter Ryan Church and .203-hitting Cristian Guzman -- he was replaced by John Foster (4-2). Pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll bunted the runners up, and Brad Wilkerson doubled down the right-field line to score both and tie it at 6.
"We could have very easily folded the way things are going," Wilkerson said.
Foster walked pinch-hitter Baerga and was lifted for Dan Kolb, who began the season as Atlanta's closer.
"You get beat when you walk guys," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Guillen connected on Kolb's first pitch. As he stood on second base, Guillen pumped his fist, then clapped his hands over his head, while the portable stands at RFK Stadium shook the way they did in the season's first half.
"It sure was welcome. Like old times," Robinson said.
Gary Majewski (3-3) pitched a perfect eighth for the win, then gave way to Cordero, who struck out Todd Hollandsworth and Rafael Furcal to end it.
It was a result that appeared unlikely, and not just because the Nationals faced a 6-2 deficit after Andruw Jones hit his major league-leading 46th homer in the fifth off starter Esteban Loaiza.
It was more than the deficit. It was also that Washington's bullpen was worn down after throwing 19 innings the previous three days and its offense has been the worst in baseball.
But the Nationals fought back with Preston Wilson's RBI single in the fifth off Ramirez, and Castilla's 11th homer, the first off Braves pitching in 34 2/3 innings.
Jones had helped build the lead with an RBI double in the first and his three-run homer. Left fielder Marlon Byrd grabbed the wall and jumped, the top of the padding peeling away in his hand, and the ball sailed just beyond his glove.
As Jones rounded the bases, the score 6-2 and his NL-best RBI total at 118, a contingent of Braves fans down the right-field line yelled "MVP!" over and over while doing the tomahawk chop - making the outfielder feel right at home and drawing jeers from other parts of the announced crowd of 36,295.
The home fans stuck around, and were rewarded in the eighth.
"That's exactly what we did in the first half," said Church, who came off the disabled list Friday. "The crowd noise, the way we came back -- those are the Nationals everyone's accustomed to."
John Wetteland saved 43 games for the Montreal Expos in 1993. ... Jones is one homer shy of tying the franchise mark, set by Eddie Matthews in 1953 and equaled by Hank Aaron in 1971. ... Guillen will have the ball and bat from his 1,000th hit auctioned off to raise money for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. ... Wilkerson had three hits.