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Washington’s true strength lies in the bullpen, where a talented and deep relief corps has ensured this team’s 44-37 record over the last three months. With 32/3 more scoreless innings yesterday in relief of Hanrahan, that unit lowered its ERA since June 28 to 2.21, also the best in baseball.

“It’s one of the best bullpens in the league, I’d say,” Hanrahan said. “I’ve seen these guys before on TV. As soon as you come out of there with a lead, I feel confident.”

Acta’s best were on display yesterday, pitching their way out of some late jams to preserve the victory. Saul Rivera entered with two on and one out in the sixth and coaxed an inning-ending double play out of Kevin Frandsen that Acta called “the key of the game.” Two innings later, Jon Rauch pulled off the afternoon’s greatest escape act.

Rauch allowed two straight singles to open the eighth but got Rajai Davis to whiff at a 1-2 slider. Then the AT&T; Park crowd of 41,555 burst into applause as a familiar figure emerged from the dugout with a bat: Bonds.

The newly crowned home run champion had been given the day off by manager Bruce Bochy, but this situation screamed for his presence, so Bonds strode to the plate to pinch-hit with runners on the corners and one out, his team trailing by two runs.

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire went to the mound to give Rauch specific instructions from Acta: “Don’t try to be macho or try to trick him inside. Make him try to hit it out to left field.”

Rauch followed orders precisely. With a 1-0 fastball on the outside corner, he got Bonds to hit a harmless foul pop-up to third for the second out. Then, with Feliz inexplicably bolting from first on an attempted steal, Rauch pulled off a move that hardly ever works: the spin-to-third, throw-to-first. Feliz was dead on arrival.

“Not that I can remember, at any point in my career,” Rauch said, when asked if he had ever gotten someone out on that move. “You practice it and just do it and hope someone makes a mistake.”

Chad Cordero’s scoreless ninth earned the closer his 25th save and ended another successful game for the surprising Nationals pitching staff.

“They pull for each other, and they’ve got each other’s backs,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “More than anything, it’s a real close-knit group. They’re all younger and they’re all sticking together. Obviously, it’s paying off right now.”

Notes — Dmitri Young was not in the Nationals lineup yesterday because of a tight left hamstring, but the cleanup hitter expects to return tonight against the Diamondbacks. …

Shawn Hill was due to make his final rehab start for Class AAA Columbus last night. Hill is expected to be activated off the disabled list and start for Washington either Tuesday or Wednesday against the Phillies.