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Small ball leads to big win for Nats
It was an all-too-familiar script.
The Milwaukee Brewers jumped out early and appeared on their way to another easy win over the offensively inept Washington Nationals last night. The Nationals — who had scored three runs or less in 12 of the previous 13 games — did not record a hit in the first three innings and again looked overmatched against the National League Central leaders and pitcher Jeff Suppan.
At least one night however, Washington proved it is capable of twisting an otherwise uninspiring plot.
The Nationals broke out in the fifth inning of their 5-4 win to the delight of 24,774 on a comfortable night at RFK Stadium. Austin Kearns was the unlikely hero in the four-run inning as he delivered a two-run double — his first extra-base hit in 15 games — as Washington scored four runs in the inning.
Jason Simontacchi (6-6) picked up the win, holding the Brewers to one run in his finals five innings after allowing two first-inning home runs. Chad Cordero picked up his 15th save in typically dramatic fashion after allowing the would-be tying run to second base with one out in the ninth.
The Nationals' defense was stellar all night, in particular outfielder Ryan Langerhans, whose diving grab in the seventh inning saved a run from scoring.
And Washington won thanks to small ball. The Brewers hit four home runs — Prince Fielder hit two solo shots — to the Nationals' none, but still absorbed the loss.
"It showed hits down win ball games," said Nationals manager Manny Acta, whose team hit .139 with runners in scoring position the prior four games. "Hits with runners in scoring position with ballgames. That's what we got."
The Nationals also got an impressive performance from Simontacchi, who looked shaky in the first inning before eventually settling down. Acta said the pitcher had "the best stuff he has had all year," particularly a devastating curveball.
"It was hard," said Simontacchi, after giving up back-to-back homers to Ryan Braun and Fielder in the first. "I knew those pitches weren"t where I wanted them to be. It was just a reminder of keeping the ball down. Work the inside and outside of the plate. Don"t be working the middle. You can"t do that at this level. I said to myself, 'Stay aggressive, stay down and get the ball to your spots.' "
It helped that Ryan Church broke out of a 2-for-19 slump with three hits for the Nationals, who batted around in the fifth. Ronnie Belliard started the rally with a one-out single up the middle. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a line-drive single to center, putting runners on the corners after center fielder Tony Gwynn"s error.
Dmitri Young then put Washington on the board with a sharp single off the glove of second baseman Rickie Weeks. Church"s line single to left plated Zimmerman from third to tie the game at 2-2.
With runners on the corners, Kearns picked an opportune time to make a rare offensive contribution. The right fielder had batted only .154 (6-for-39) in his last 12 games. This time, he pounced on Suppan"s 1-1 offering with a sharp shot to left center for a double to put the Nationals ahead 4-2.
"I feel all right," Kearns said. "Obviously, I haven"t done what I wanted to do. I am supposed to be up there driving in runs. I want to be in that situation. It"s always nice when you can come through."
In the sixth, Fielder led off with a homer to right to trim the Nationals lead to one. The Brewers then put runners on the corners with one out, but Simontacchi struck Weeks out on an off-speed pitch. Tony Graffanino, pinch hitting for Suppan, appeared to deliver a bases-clearing, go-ahead extra-base hit, but the hot shot was taken away by Langerhans' diving catch in left-center.
The Nationals pushed the lead to 5-3 in the seventh on Felipe Lopez"s RBI double. The run proved necessary when Johnny Estrada hit a solo homer off Cordero with one out in the ninth, cutting the Nationals' lead to 5-4. Cordero then walked Corey Hart, who advanced to second on a wild pitch during the next at-bat. J.J. Hardy grounded out to third. Braun worked the count to 3-0 before Cordero battled back to load the count before getting the final out of a meek roller to short.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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