- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Washington Nationals blew an early lead. They had a runner thrown out at home and gave up a run on a grand total of two bunts. Their starter got hit for five runs in the second inning and stranded runners at third five times.

But the Nationals had one thing that they’ve lacked so many other times this year when one or more of the preceding circumstances occurred: a margin for error.

Playing the same kind of aggressive, carefree baseball that helped them to a win on Friday night, the Nationals negated the fact that they weren’t always sharp. They did it with a newly molded lineup, reconfigured yet again before the game when left fielder Elijah Dukes showed up late, climbing out of a four-run hole with enough offense that new closer Joel Hanrahan still wasn’t needed in the ninth.

The end result was a 10-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals’ second in a row since they jettisoned a trio of veterans hours after the trading deadline. While the victory was nowhere near as crisp as Washington’s 5-2 win on Friday night, it showcased an offense that did enough to negate whatever unseemly moments the Nationals had.

“For the team to come back and score 10, what a boost,” starter Jason Bergmann said. “I don’t think I’ve ever in my life been so happy after a game where I gave up six runs. This team really showed me a lot today.”

The Nationals were down 6-2 when Bergmann was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. But that’s when Washington’s rally began.

Facing former Nationals reliever Bill Bray, Ronnie Belliard turned on a 1-1 pitch and drilled a two-run homer. That put Washington within two, close enough for a seventh-inning rally and another pinch hit to give them the lead for good.

After Lastings Milledge drew a leadoff walk, three of the Nationals’ next four hitters produced singles with the kind of measured, efficient swings Washington simply wasn’t getting from its offense in clutch situations earlier this year. The hits from Austin Kearns, Kory Casto and Alberto Gonzalez tied the game, and pinch hitter Pete Orr punched an outside fastball through the hole at short for a two-run single that gave Washington an 8-6 lead.

“He gave me a first-pitch fastball to hit. It was middle in, and I was kind of thinking, ‘Man, did I miss my pitch?’” Orr said. “And then I got the next one.”

Perhaps the oddest result of the comeback was that Bergmann, who came in 0-3 in his last seven starts despite a 2.93 ERA in that time, left with his record stuck at 1-8 despite the outpouring of offense.

He gave up five runs in the second, an inning constructed with two walks that came back to burn him when Joey Votto drove in three with a double and Jay Bruce followed with a two-run homer.

Another run scored in the sixth, when Corey Patterson bunted back to Bergmann in the sixth inning. With Casto also charging the bunt and Emilio Bonifacio arriving late to cover first, Bergmann’s lob went off Bonifacio’s glove and down the right-field line. By the time Kearns retrieved the ball, Patterson had made it all the way to third, and he would eventually score.

“There was no one at first. I tried to lead [Emilio], but he’s not 6-foot-10,” Bergmann said. “But the offense bailed us out. That’s something we’ve been missing all year.”

Whether it will continue is difficult to say. But at least for two nights, the Nationals have looked like they intend to finish a disastrous season by playing with the kind of vibrant aggression that might help them build toward something.

“The guys just continued to plug away. We had some good at-bats, some key walks, some key hits,” manager Manny Acta said. “You just expect that type of energy, and why not? These guys are the youngest team in the big leagues right now, and we shouldn’t be lacking any type of energy.”

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