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Stop the presses: Kearns wins it!

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Inside the Nats’ clubhouse after Sunday’s game, the Pearl Jam song “I’m Still Alive” was blaring through the sound system. I don’t believe Austin Kearns was the one who hit the play button on that one, but no one would have faulted him if he did.

Yes, Kearns is still alive, believe it or not. He may be in the midst of a miserable season. But when called upon with two on and two out in a tie game, he came through with the game-winning base hit to right-center.

Look, there’s no debating this: Kearns has been awful for two years now. He has come nowhere close to earning the $8 million Jim Bowden gave him this year. (Let’s not even discuss the $10 million club option for 2010.) When he came up to bat in the 10th Sunday, he was batting .196. Over his last 49 games, he had one RBI and a .176 slugging percentage. Atrocious.

And if you combine Kearns’ numbers over the last two seasons, they still look hideous. In 159 games and 481 at-bats, he’s batting .210 with 10 homers, 48 RBI and 16 doubles.

But I defy you to find a more popular player inside the Nationals clubhouse. Not because he’s a great player. But because he’s a good person, and he’s handled these struggles with dignity and never stops working to try to snap out of it.

Listen to what everyone had to say about Kearns on Sunday…

JIM RIGGLEMAN: “We use Austin as an example a lot of times about being a pro. He’s in a tough situation, not getting to play as much as he normally has in his career. But he does his work every day, he gets ready for those kind of situations to help you defensively, offensively, anything he can do to help the ballclub. Just a first-class guy.”

JOSH WILLINGHAM: “He’s such a team guy. He’s a great friend. And he’s been that way all year. He’s had a tough year stats-wise, but baseball’s all about battling and how you handle yourself. And he’s done a great job. He’s a good player, a really good player.”

JOHN LANNAN: “The one guy that needed that was Austin,” left-hander John Lannan said. “I’m glad it happened for him. He’s a great teammate and a great ballplayer.”

Kearns, never much with words, did have a telling quote about how he’s dealt with all this adversity: “That’s kind of how I was raised. My mom and dad taught me you’ve got to be the same person every single day. This is no different. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Hopefully you have more good, but if not, keep on keepin’ on.”

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Mark Zuckerman

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