WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether it was nerves, rust or age – or a combination of the three – John Smoltz had a rough debut inning for the Boston Red Sox.

The 42-year-old right-hander allowed four of the first five batters to score before settling down in his first major league game in more than a year. The Washington Nationals hit him hard by pulling pitches high in the strike zone the first time through the lineup, scoring all the runs they would need in Thursday night’s 9-3 victory.

Smoltz, who spent all of his previous 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, tried to relax by playing cards in the clubhouse before going to work in an American League jersey for the first time. The jitters appeared intact, however, when he needed 34 pitches to get through the four-run first.

After that, Smoltz (0-1) looked more like the pitcher who has 210 wins and 154 saves. He gave up a run in the third, but retired the side in order in the second and fourth and fanned all three batters he faced in his final inning. His final line: five innings, seven hits, five earned runs, one walk, one hit batter and five strikeouts in 92 pitches.

Smoltz’s two decades in Atlanta essentially came to an end last June, when he had surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The Braves didn’t re-sign him when he became a free agent at the end of the season, so he joined the Red Sox with a one-year deal and made six rehab starts before coming off the disabled list to start Thursday’s game.

Jordan Zimmermann (3-3), who took the mound with 208 fewer wins than his counterpart, had his best start of his young career to get his first victory since late April. The rookie right-hander allowed one run and five hits with six strikeouts over seven innings. Every Nationals player in the starting lineup except the pitcher scored at least once or had at least two RBIs as Washington snapped a three-game losing streak.

The Red Sox were looking for a sweep in their first series in the nation’s capital since 1971. Despite the loss, they’ll no doubt want to beg Major League Baseball to book another trip soon: Each of the three games set a new record for attendance at Nationals Park, with Thursday’s crowd of 41,985 again flush with Boston jerseys, hats and chants for the visitors.

Boston trailed 5-0 before scoring on David Ortiz’s sacrifice fly in the fifth, but the Nationals responded with two runs in the sixth against reliever Daniel Bard and two more in the seventh on Willie Harris’ homer off Takashi Saito.

NOTES: Smoltz joins Phil Niekro and Warren Spahn as the only pitchers to spend at least 20 seasons with one franchise before playing a game for another. All three had their two decades of services with the Braves. … Nationals 1B Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch from Smoltz in the first inning. He ran the bases, then left the game at the top of the second with a bruised left shin. … Tyler Clippard pitched the final two innings to make his season debut for the Nationals.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.