The Washington Times - May 5, 2011, 08:33AM

PHILADELPHIA — As Matt Stairs’ pinch-hit single in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday night landed softly in shallow right field, it carried with it a little extra weight.

The hit, which not only snapped an 0-for-13 start to the season for the veteran pinch-hitting specialist, was the 100th pinch-hit of Stairs’ career, tying him with Rusty Staub for 18th on the all-time list and giving the long-tenured hitter another piece of memorabilia to take home and decorate his bar with.

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The ball that delivered hit No. 100 was sitting in Stairs’ locker after the Nationals 7-4 loss to the Phillies and joins an illustrious group of milestone artifacts from Stairs’ lengthy career. He has his first hit – a two-run single off Jose Rijo in 1992 – his first home run – off Tom Gordon – pinch-hit home runs No. 21, 22 and 23 (to make him the all-time leader), and perhaps his most famous home run stroke, the one from the 2008 National League Division Series that helped Philadelphia advance and ultimately capture the World Series title that year.

“It’s special to get 100 hits knowing that there’s a lot of 0-fers in there,” Stairs said after the game. “But you’ve got to put those behind you and if it doesn’t happen one night you’ve got to come back the next day. I think I’ve been pretty good at that throughout my career, of being positive and not letting an 0-for-11, 0-for-12, 0-for-13 start get me down.”

It (also) means I’m old,” he added, hailing guys like all-time pinch-hit leader Lenny Harris – with 212 – whom he played with in Milwaukee. “I tip my hat to the guys that are in front of me.”

Stairs is 43. He rarely starts a game or plays the field. He’s made the late years of his career out of being able to come through with clutch pinch hits – making a prolonged 0-fer streak even more infuriating for him to work his way out of.

I think succeeding’s tough,” Stairs said. “I accept my role. I love it. I love pinch hitting. I could pinch hit every game, especially when you get in the situation where the game’s on the line. You have the chance to be the hero or the gopher. More times than not you’re the gopher but I like being in that situation – being a veteran, being an older guy, not putting a lot of pressure on myself, being happy go lucky and I’ve felt pretty good up there the last three or four at-bats and despite not having an average I was still happy with some walks I took and some good at-bats. It’s a fresh start.”

Stairs, like much of the Nationals, struggled to find his rhythm and timing at the plate in the season’s first five weeks. The fact that his at-bats are so few and far between made it even more difficult for him to regain form.

He stood in on bullpen sessions in an attempt to see live pitches; he put in extra work in the batting cage in an effort to regain his timing. Through his first 13 at-bats, Stairs had struck out five times but also walked five others. Even his batting practice – during which Stairs’ objective is generally only to see how far he can hit a ball – was suffering: “I was having a hard time getting a base hit in BP.”

As a pinch hitter, when you lose your timing, you’re going to lose it for a while and unfortunately you don’t get a chance to get two, three games to get back in a rhythm,” Stairs said. “Am I locked in? No. But is it a start. I walk away tonight and, despite the loss, at least feel pretty good about going up there and having an aggressive swing and getting a base hit.

I’d have liked to have hit the McDonalds sign (on the third deck in right field). That’s what I was aiming for but I was a little short.”