ATLANTA -- "Almost" was the word of the night for the Nationals on Thursday.
The Nationals almost left Turner Field with a win, a sweep of the three-game series, a winning road trip and a record above .500 as souvenirs of their nine-game, 10-day, three-city jaunt.
They almost won on Thursday using a shortened bullpen after getting a performance from Jordan Zimmermann that manager Jim Riggleman called the best he's seen from him this season.
But Atlanta rallied from four runs down in the seventh, then won the game in the 10th, 6-5.
"That's a tough one," said Riggleman. "Every loss is tough, but when Jordan's pitching like he was and we have the game somewhere where we want it ... We just really tried to finish it off with a couple of guys not available tonight. It was going to be up to [Sean Burnett] to get it done. We were going to use [Burnett] and [Drew] Storen [to close]."
Burnett might have gotten it done, but the difference was a pair of almosts that went against them -- almost swings by Atlanta pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad, which led to a walk, and another by left fielder Martin Prado that led to a game-tying grand slam.
"I think Burnett got the non-benefit -- or whatever the terminology is -- on a couple of check swings," said Riggleman. "That irritates the heck out of me, those check swings. He's got to end up throwing a pitch to Prado with the bases loaded, when maybe that wouldn't have been the case."
Danny Espinosa hit his fourth homer of the season and Pudge Rodriguez hit his second, and Zimmermann struck out a career-high 11 batters, but things started to unravel in the seventh and came completely apart in the 10th.
The 10th started with Doug Slaten's walk of Prado, who was then sacrificed to second. After an intentional walk to Chipper Jones, McCann hit a 1-1 pitch into the right-field corner for the winning run.
It was a disappointing end to the Nationals' road trip, which they finished 4-5. The loss dropped their record to 18-19.
Craig Kimbrel (1-0) pitched a scoreless 10th to get the win for Atlanta, and Slaten (0-1) took the loss.
Riggleman had decided before the game that neither Todd Coffey nor Tyler Clippard was going to see action. That left Storen, but only if Washington took the lead. That never transpired.
Though Slaten took the loss, Burnett may have felt the worst of anyone in the clubhouse.
"It makes me pretty sick to think I blew a four-run lead with one swing of the bat," said Burnett, who hadn't allowed a homer all season and who had a franchise-record 22 2/3-inning scoreless streak snapped earlier in the season. "But that's the way it goes. I've got to keep battling."
His battle with Prado was epic. It was a 10-pitch at-bat, with Prado fouling off four pitches at 2-2.
"I thought I made some pitches," said Burnett. "A lot of close ones, borderline pitches, and check swings. One slider I threw behind him, and he fouled it off his foot. I don't know how he got to it."
Then came the check swing at 2-2 and the ill-fated full-count pitch.
The Nationals also hurt themselves by not cashing in opportunities in the middle innings.
They managed only five hits on the night and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Atlanta starter Derek Lowe, who allowed five earned runs on six hits -- including two homers -- in six innings. They never touched the bullpen, getting only one baserunner -- on a ninth-inning walk by Jerry Hairston Jr. -- after Rodriguez's homer with one out in the sixth. Atlanta pitchers struck out 15.
Rodriguez's blast made the score 5-1 in the sixth. That looked like it would be more than enough for Zimmermann.
"[Zimmermann] was pitching great, and then he just had one bad inning at the end," said Rodriguez. "He walked that first guy with a slider, and that was probably the difference right there. We have a [four-run] lead, but that's baseball. That's why you have to play all the way until the last out, because anything can happen."
Zimmermann pitched brilliantly, walking one against the 11 strikeouts, and limited the Braves to three runs (all earned) and five hits over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed only a third-inning homer to Jones, but then retired 10 of the next 11 batters to get to the seventh.
"I felt great all night. Everything was working," said Zimmerman, who made his third straight quality start but is 1-0 with two no-decisions. "I just left one pitch up to Chipper. Other than that, everything was working. If I could take one pitch back, it would probably be the 3-1 slider to Freddie Freeman."
Jones considered Zimmermann's insistence on the slider a big break.
"You can say what you want about the home runs and the game-winning hit by [McCann], but [Zimmerman] shook [off his catcher] three times to get to a slider 3-1 on Freddie Freeman," he said. "It was a 5-1 game with nobody on. That started everything. Next thing you know, two batters later he's out of the game, and we've got something going."
Zimmermann exited with one out and two on in the seventh, the first inning since the first, when Atlanta's first two batters reached, that he allowed two runners on in the same frame.
He continued Washington's string solid starting pitching. For the series, Nationals starters allowed only eight earned runs in 19 2/3 innings.
On in relief of Zimmermann, Burnett walked Conrad to load the bases, then surrendered the grand slam to Prado. It was the first homer Burnett allowed in 14 2/3 innings.
Despite leaving Atlanta disappointed with what they let slip away, the Nats believe they are headed in the right direction -- home.
"We could have won this one and swept the series, but we have to go home in a positive way," said Rodriguez. "After the tough series we had with Philadelphia, we won the next two series. The trip was very positive for us. Now we go home. We play good baseball at home. Now we're going to play five games there and try to do our best at home."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.