Breaking down a victory

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It’s so nice to win for a change, isn’t it? Everyone’s in a better mood. The sense of relief inside the Nats’ clubhouse was palpable, with music blaring over the sound system for the first time this year and smiles all around.

Plenty of positive developments to dissect from this one. Let’s start with the man who set the tone for the whole evening: Shairon Martis, who turned in the first quality start of the year by a Nats pitcher.

Martis (two runs, five hits in 6 1/3 innings) did exactly what he needs to do to be successful. He threw strikes and went right after hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters faced, and wound up throwing only 86 total pitches before being pulled in the seventh for lefty Mike Hinckley.

“This was a very important outing,” manager Manny Acta said. “Starting the season 0-7 and with all the pressure of who’s going to win the first game, who’s going to have the first quality start. He’s 22 years old, goes out there against this quality, powerful lineup and does his job.”

Martis knew from the moment he arrived at Nationals Park was his task was.

“I came in today and my goal was to stop the losing streak,” he said. “I came in aggressive, do whatever I got to do, keep to the pitching plan, and it worked out.”

Martis’ teammates appreciated the effort, especially those seven guys who played behind him in the field.

“He’s going right at people,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Any time a pitcher is throwing like he was, it’s fun to play defense behind him. Because he’s getting up there, he’s working quick, he’s getting strike one. He’s not trying to nibble. He was just going right at people. … It was fun to play behind him.”

It’s also fun when your offense is clicking as the Nats’ was tonight. Adam Dunn set the tone with a three-run homer in the first, then Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Alberto Gonzalez added solo homers of their own.

The Nats have now hit seven homers in two home games. The last time the franchise hit at least three homers in consecutive games? Sept. 15, 2004, when the Expos did it in both ends of a doubleheader.

Perhaps the happiest Nat after this one was Willingham, who came up to pinch-hit in the seventh 0-for-11 on the season. But he turned on a 3-2 pitch from Chad Durbin and put it into the left-field bullpen.

“I filled up a lot of columns,” Willingham joked. “I’ve got a batting average now. I’ve got a home run, an RBI. It’s definitely good.”

Also good was the Nats bullpen. Mike Hinckley, Joe Beimel and Joel Hanrahan combined to retire all eight batters they faced. And remember, the game was still very much in doubt when Hinckley and Beimel entered.

One final note before we wrap up for the night. This was, of course, the Nats’ first win of the year. It was also their first win since Sept. 23, 2008, a 9-4 victory over the Marlins. The winning pitcher that night? You guessed it: Shairon Martis. Even better, the losing pitcher for Florida? Scott Olsen.

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Mark Zuckerman

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