Rookie Lannan is off to great start

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SAN FRANCISCO — John Lannan has been a major leaguer for all of 12 days, during which time he has:

c Been ejected from his first career game after plunking Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in succession, breaking Utley’s hand in the process.

c Earned his first career win in his first home game.

c Retired Barry Bonds three times on the first night the feared slugger took aim at the all-time home run record with the entire country watching.

“I hope he doesn’t think the rest of his starts for the rest of his career are going to be like this,” Washington Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. “It’s like, man, things are only going to go downhill for this kid.”

Not if the past two weeks have been a sign of things to come. The way Lannan has pitched with talent and poise despite being thrown into tough situations, the Nationals have to be wondering whether they have stumbled upon something special here.

“It’s been a lot for the kid, and he’s been able to handle it quite well,” manager Manny Acta said. “That tells us a lot.”

AT&T; Park was still abuzz over Lannan yesterday, nearly 24 hours after he stared down Bonds and got the greatest hitter of this generation to foul out, ground into a double play and then whiff mightily at a full-count curveball in his final pitch of the night.

Lannan, who less than three months ago was pitching for Class A Potomac, did more interviews yesterday afternoon than most of his Nationals teammates have done all season. He turned on the television Monday night and watched as ESPN analysts broke down every one of his pitches to Bonds and applauded his performance.

The absurdity of it all isn’t lost on this soft-spoken kid from Long Island.

“It’s been a crazy year, a crazy couple of weeks,” he said.

It all culminated Monday night, when Lannan was sent to the mound as the potential sacrificial lamb to Bonds‘ historic home run. By the end of the evening, the rookie hurler hadn’t just kept Bonds in the ballpark, he had become the talk of baseball after tossing seven innings of one-run ball.

The seventh inning might have been his most impressive. Lannan retired two of the first three batters he faced, but as Bonds stepped to the plate for the fourth time in the game, all eyes turned to the Washington bullpen. Ray King, a left-handed specialist who had surrendered just one hit in 19 career confrontations with Bonds, was ready to enter.

Acta, though, stuck with his starter.

“Why not?” the manager said. “He was throwing the ball good. It was lefty-lefty, two outs. And I thought he pitched him well the whole game.”

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