- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Washington Nationals’ lineup isn’t built around one or two sluggers, guys who can take a game into their own hands and carry the rest of their teammates on their backs.

Nor is the Nationals’ pitching staff built around a single dominant starter who can go the distance or a hard-throwing reliever who can turn a game around in one quick burst.

No, for manager Manny Acta’s club to succeed, it must get production from all corners of its offense and it must get quality pitching from top to bottom.

Never was that more evident than during last night’s 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians, a game that didn’t feature one monstrous individual performance but boasted key contributions from countless team members.

Looking for a balanced offensive attack? How about all eight of Washington’s starting position players reaching base safely during a 12-hit effort. Looking for a collective pitching effort? Get 41/3 solid innings from the starter, then watch as six relievers combine to record the final 14 outs without surrendered another run.

“That’s the type of thing we like to do,” Acta said, “to keep everybody involved so as many people [as possible] can feel like part of the team.”

While it’s difficult to single out individuals, a few Nationals did stand out with their clutch performances.

Like Brandon Watson, the slap-hitting outfielder who needed a 43-game hit streak at Class AAA Columbus to earn a promotion earlier this week but proved his mettle last night with a pair of two-out, RBI hits.

Watson’s fourth-inning single to left put Washington on the board after several early missed opportunities. His sixth-inning double to right-center highlighted the game-winning rally and capped an impressive night for the 25-year-old.

“Two big hits by the kid,” Acta said.

It was only the second multihit performance in Watson’s 37-game career, the other having come Aug. 9, 2005, when he doubled and homered in his big-league debut at Houston, and it was much appreciated by the RFK Stadium crowd of 24,534.

“It seems like a long time,” Watson said of his previous two-hit game. “It’s been a while, but it’s baseball and I’m back here. I’m fortunate to be in the lineup and I’m going to play hard every day.”

Watson’s clutch hits helped give the Nationals the lead. Cristian Guzman’s seventh-inning homer (his first in 95 career games at RFK) served as the knockout punch to an Indians squad that has been among baseball’s best since Opening Day.

Equally important, though, was the collective performance Acta got from the seven pitchers who shut down Cleveland’s lineup over the course of the night.

Micah Bowie, 4-0 since joining the rotation a month ago, continued his renaissance and set a career mark when he struck out his seventh batter of the game in the fifth.

But Bowie’s dominance had a downside. It took a lot of pitches to record all those strikeouts, so by the time the left-hander walked Victor Martinez with one out in the fifth, he was exhausted from a 104-pitch effort that represented his highest total in eight years.

“It felt like a lot of pitches,” he said. “But thank God we got through it with minimal damage.”

For that, Bowie could thank his mates in the bullpen, especially Luis Ayala. The right-hander was summoned for his first appearance since September 2005 and he responded by inducing an inning-ending, bases-loaded double play out of slugger Travis Hafner.

“It was good for me to get my confidence back,” said Ayala, who missed all of last season following major elbow surgery. “It’s been a long time, and I did my job because I threw strikes.”

Inside the Nationals dugout, Bowie pumped his fist and thought about the prospect of good things to come.

“When he got that pitch, I’m going, ‘We’re going to win this game,’ ” Bowie said. “The momentum shift coming out of that … it’s a huge lift for the team.”

And the rest of Washington’s bullpen fed off of it. Five more relievers followed Ayala, each one doing his part to contribute to the win. Saul Rivera (2-2) tossed a scoreless sixth and earned the win. Ray King and Jesus Colome teamed up during a 1-2-3 seventh. Jon Rauch worked around two hits to make it through the eighth unscathed. And Chad Cordero finished it off with a perfect ninth, earning his 12th save and capping a Nationals victory that featured a contribution from just about everyone who set foot on the field.

“Everyone did something good,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who committed the only blunder of the night when he lost a ground ball in his jersey. “That’s what we have to do to win.”

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