ATLANTA -- Adam LaRoche jogged toward first as he's done so many times before, fully expecting to get to the bag ahead of the runner.
But Nick Johnson hustled down the line, the umpire called him safe and LaRoche had to endure the most embarrassing play of his career.
Even though Tony Armas pitched seven shutout innings and Alfonso Soriano hit another homer for Washington, LaRoche's lackadaisical effort Sunday drew most of the attention in the Atlanta Braves' 8-1 loss to the Nationals.
Washington scored four unearned runs, breaking open a 1-0 game, after LaRoche was out-hustled to first by Johnson on a routine grounder that should have been the third out of the fifth inning.
"It's lack of focus and lack of hustle," a contrite LaRoche said. "That's all it is."
LaRoche, who suffers from attention deficit disorder, has always come across as being a little too laid-back in the way he plays. He often takes a nap before the game and occasionally needs a reminder that it's his turn to bat.
"There's definitely something to be learned here," he said. "It's not the first time."
Manager Bobby Cox was ejected from the game in the bottom half of the fifth and insisted that first-base umpire Mark Carlson blew the call. That said, Cox was clearly more upset with LaRoche.
"It was something that shouldn't have happened," Cox said. "Both the umpire and the player were wrong."
Armas (4-2) dominated a team that scored 14 runs while winning the first two games of the series. He gave up three measly singles, struck out six and escaped his only serious jam by striking out Chipper Jones with the bases loaded in the third.
Soriano led off the third inning with his 12th homer, on the heels of a two-run shot the previous night. He singled in two more runs in the sixth.
But the fifth was the key inning. John Thomson (1-3) retired the first two hitters, gave up a single to Jose Vidro but seemed out of the inning when Johnson grounded weakly down the first-base line.
LaRoche fielded the ball and looked to tag Johnson. When the runner appeared to slow up, LaRoche turned his back and trotted toward first. Johnson suddenly sped up, and both the fielder and the runner arrived at the bag simultaneously.
"I thought he would come tag me," Johnson said. "I ran hard, and (Carlson) called me safe."
LaRoche turned around in disbelief and Cox came out to argue. But Carlson summed it up best when he told the manager, "It never should have been that close."
"He's exactly right," LaRoche said. "There's no excuse for it -- whether it's a good call or a bad call, safe or out. To be honest, I wasn't for one second mad at the umpire."
The Nationals sure took advantage of LaRoche's error. Jose Guillen doubled in a run, Ryan Church singled in two more and Ryan Zimmerman made it 5-0 with an RBI single.
"When a play like that happens, it's a downer for the pitcher, it's a downer for the whole team," Jones said. "Anytime you give a team four outs, they're going to make you pay."
Cox, who rarely calls out his players in public, decided not to yank LaRoche for his mental lapse. The manager did that to Andruw Jones early in his career, pulling him out of a 1998 game in the middle of the inning when Cox felt the center fielder loafed after a ball.
Then again, maybe Cox felt the best punishment was to leave LaRoche in the rest of the way. He was booed loudly by the Turner Field crowd the last two times he came to bat and every time he touched the ball in the field.
"It's the first time I've been booed at home," LaRoche said. "I told the umpire, 'I feel like I'm naked out here.'"
LaRoche compounded his misery by going 0-for-3 at the plate, failing to get a ball out of the infield. He won't be the lineup Monday when the Braves open a four-game series against the Florida Marlins -- Cox already decided to start Brian Jordan at first.
"I would probably do the same thing," LaRoche said. "The first thing I did after the game was go in (Cox's) office and let him know I was sorry. There's no excuse for that. He doesn't have many rules. Basically, it's show up on time and hustle. You've got to hustle."
Washington equaled its biggest win of the season and snapped a four-game losing streak.
"We took advantage of a break," manager Frank Robinson said. "We made them pay for it."
The Nationals poured it on with three more runs in the sixth after Peter Moylan took over for Thomson, who surrendered eight hits but actually dropped his NL-leading ERA to 1.87.
Wiki Gonzalez, who was called up from Triple-A New Orleans before the game, led off with his third straight single and went to third on Royce Clayton's double. Armas struck out, but Soriano brought both runners home with a double to right. Johnson finished it off with an RBI single off Macay McBride.
Wilson Betemit hit a solo homer in the ninth inning for the Braves' lone run.
Gonzalez was called up one day after C Brian Schneider went on the 15-day DL with an injured hamstring. ... To make room for Gonzalez, RHP Jason Bergmann (0-0, 5.91 in 11 games) was optioned to New Orleans. ... Julian Perez, an international scout for the Braves based in Puerto Rico, was killed Sunday morning in a car accident. He was 51. Perez had been in the organization since 1992.