WASHINGTON -- The weather was miserable. The stands were virtually empty. The first inning was ugly. The ball was hard to grip.
When it was time for Matt Chico to hit the showers, he had five walks and not a single strikeout.
Needless to say, Chico's first major league victory didn't come the way he had pictured it -- with one exception. The opponent was the Atlanta Braves.
"I grew up watching the Braves. I always wanted to throw against them. I always wanted to get my first win off them," the 23-year-old left-hander said. "It was one of those where I thought I'd do a little better. I'll take it."
In front of a few thousand shivering souls at RFK Stadium, Chico and the Washington Nationals beat the Braves 5-1 Monday night, giving the home team its first winning streak of the season. The Nationals have won three of four, and the much-maligned pitching staff has recovered from the team's 1-8 start to drop its ERA from 6.33 to 4.74.
"I'm one guy who basically lives for this," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "And I don't know if I would have made it to the ballpark today as a fan. I was surprised at the amount of people who showed up. The plan was, hey, we've got to be out there, so we might as well give it all and win the ballgame."
Acta called it a 40-40 night - 40 degrees, 40 mph winds -- and ideally he would have wanted his starting pitcher to go at a steady pace to keep the players warm and the fans interested.
But Chico (1-1), making his third major league start after never pitching above Double-A before this season, did just the opposite. He labored through a 37-pitch first inning that included three walks but no runs. Finally, catcher Brian Schneider told him to throw strikes and let the gusting wind take care of the rest.
"I think I had faith in myself after I got through the first inning," Chico said. "It was one of those times where I brush it off and go about my business. With the wind, you couldn't really get a grip on the ball. It would dry out the hands pretty good. I really had to bear down and get a grip on it."
Chico settled down, needing only eight pitches to retire the side in the third and 15 to get through four batters in the fourth. The wild streak returned in the sixth when he walked Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann to lead off the inning, and he was done for the night.
"By no means is he Glavine yet -- but he kind of pitches like Glavine," said Francoeur, chuckling a little as he compared the rookie to Braves and Mets great Tom Glavine. "He just won't give in. He's going to walk you before he'll just lay something over the plate. If you're not patient with him, you're going to end up not making some good swings. We were kind of out in front of the ball some tonight."
Saul Rivera, making his 2007 debut, replaced Chico and allowed an RBI groundout that cut the led to 3-1 before retiring the side in the sixth. Rivera, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero combined for four innings of scoreless relief.
Three of Washington's runs came with two outs in the third off Braves starter Chuck James (2-1). Ryan Zimmerman, who entered the game in a 3-for-33 slump, singled home a run and was followed by Dmitri Young, who was wearing Jackie Robinson's No. 42. Young had been scheduled to wear the number Sunday as part of baseball's commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Robinson's first game, but Washington's game at the New York Mets was rained out.
Young doubled off the left-field wall, scoring Ronnie Belliard and Zimmerman. Young also singled in the sixth and doubled off the right-field wall in the eighth, capping a 3-for-4 performance.
"Dmitri really represented Jackie very well today with No. 42," Acta said.
The Nationals added two more in the eighth. The Braves thought they were out of the inning when Chris Woodward turned an apparent double play, but umpire Sam Holbrook ruled that Woodward did not touch second base before throwing to first. Young scored on the play.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox argued the call on the field, then was ejected as he continued to make his case between the eighth and ninth innings. It was the 125th ejection of his career, six behind Hall of Famer John McGraw for the all-time record.
"It did hit the bag, hit the inside of it," Cox said of Woodward's foot. "I've never seen a call like that."
- The attendance was announced at 16,316, though the actual number might have been one-fourth of that.
- Atlanta LHP Steve Colyer made his first appearance in the majors since Oct. 1, 2004, when he pitched for Detroit against Tampa Bay.
- Washington OF Ryan Church went 0-for-2 with two walks, ending his career-high 11-game hitting streak.
- By scoring in the third, the Nationals have tallied in every inning except the first. They've been outscored 16-0 in the first inning this season.