ATLANTA — The hit came off the bat of Ronnie Belliard, a line-drive single to right. The run was scored by Chris Snelling, who could have waltzed in from third base without fear of being thrown out. And the mood inside the Washington Nationals’ dugout was one of pure joy.
As center fielder Ryan Church put it to manager Manny Acta: “We’ve got a lead!”
Mark it down: At 9:32 p.m. on April 12, in the eighth inning of their 10th game of the season, the Nationals took their first true lead of 2007.
And thanks to a subsequent RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman, a brilliant performance by starting pitcher Jason Bergmann and a trademark ninth-inning escape by closer Chad Cordero, Washington secured its second win of 2007.
And what a win it was, a tense-yet-gratifying 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves before 23,897 stunned fans at Turner Field that snapped a six-game losing streak and sent the Nationals (2-8) to New York feeling good about themselves for the first time in a long time.
“When we scored those two runs, it was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got them!’ ” Belliard said.
Said Church: “We stuck together and just grinded it out.”
Added Acta: “We know we can do it now.”
Having failed to hold a lead at any point this season other than the final moment of their 7-6, walk-off win over the Florida Marlins on April 4, the Nationals might have doubted the breakthrough ever would happen.
This game remained scoreless going into the eighth, but that’s when Washington’s lifeless lineup finally struck. With runners on the corners and one out, Belliard lined a sharp base hit to right off Atlanta ace John Smoltz, bringing Snelling home with the night’s first run and putting Acta’s team finally ahead.
Zimmerman followed with a run-scoring single to right, providing some cushion and allowing the Nationals’ bullpen to finish things off.
Jesus Colome (1-0) and Jon Rauch retired the side in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, bringing Cordero out from the bullpen for his first save opportunity of the year.
This ballpark has been troublesome for Cordero. Braves fans remembered well the game last May 13 when the Washington closer gave up two ninth-inning homers, including a game-winning grand slam by Jeff Francoeur, and that at-bat was shown on the stadium video board last night as the heart of the lineup prepared to come to the plate.
“It was just a weird feeling,” Church said. “They played that video, and the same kind of guys are up as last year.”
This time, Cordero emerged victorious despite some harrowing moments. Shying away from the fastball he usually relies on, the right-hander wound up loading the bases with two outs, including walks of both Andruw Jones and Francoeur. But with the crowd roaring and tension in the air, Cordero struck out rookie Scott Thorman on a 3-2 slider to end the game in dramatic fashion.