- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2008

For as much misfortune as the Washington Nationals - and starter Tim Redding specifically - have endured this season, perhaps Friday’s win over the Houston Astros was baseball’s little way of repaying them.

Their oft-injured and occasionally overmatched lineup has been through more than a few meetings with staff aces that have added a loss to their record, sometimes in two hours or less. Redding, meanwhile, raced to six wins in the midst of All-Star conversation by mid-May, only to remain there for nearly two months as a series of utilitarian (if not spectacular) starts netted him only no-decisions with such consistency that he entered Friday night with a chance to equal an unfortunate major league record.

But instead of the right-hander tying a major league record with 10 straight no-decisions - or Astros hurler Roy Oswalt becoming the latest pitcher to breeze through the Nationals’ lineup - Washington instead walked away with one of its easiest wins of the year.

With Ronnie Belliard supplying the kind of offensive jolt rarely seen around Nationals Park this season and Redding turning in six shutout innings, the Nationals cruised to a 10-0 win over the Astros, taking the first of a three-game series with their biggest margin of victory this season.

“I think we were just due for one of those easy ones, where we didn’t have to burn every brain cell just to win the ballgame,” manager Manny Acta said. “The guys just exploded.”

The breaks started arriving in the first inning. First, Redding was able to pitch out of a two-out jam with runners on first and third to escape unscathed, and then Oswalt’s night ended after 17 pitches.

The three-time All-Star left after the first inning because a hip injury flared up, forcing Houston to coax seven innings out of a patchwork bullpen.

Any hopes of that option working showed its flaws almost immediately.

Belliard hammered a Chad Paronto change-up to left field for a two-run homer in the second inning, giving Redding a lead the Nationals would add to in the third inning when Austin Kearns doubled to score Cristian Guzman.

In the fifth inning, Belliard lashed Dave Borkowski’s fastball to center field, again stopping to admire the ball’s flight as his second homer of the night - and 100th of his career - left the park.

It was the sixth multi-homer game of his career, and his second this season, earning him a curtain call from the crowd of 33,653.

“Ronnie’s got some pop, man,” Kearns said. “He played well last year. He’s a good hitter. I’m really not that surprised by it.”

The benefactor of it all was Redding, who needed 114 pitches to get through six innings but was able to use a sharp fastball to get ahead of hitters. He also showed some grit; he ended the second, third, fourth and fifth innings with strikeouts, three of those coming with a runner on base.

Redding (7-3) won for the first time since May 19.

“It [stinks]. I wanted to go in the record book. I told my wife some how, some way in my career, I’m going in the record book,” he said jokingly. “Normally, it’d be a situation where we kind of fold a little bit, but these guys took advantage of some balls left over the plate.”

Even reliever Steven Shell got a souvenir out of the game - and a surprise one at that. He worked three scoreless innings to end the game, learning he had collected his first big league save when clubhouse manager Mike Wallace presented him with a game ball.

The night wasn’t completely without hiccups: Dmitri Young was lifted for a pinch hitter after fouling off the first pitch of his at-bat in the third inning. He was removed from the game with right lower back tightness, and his return is day-to-day.

And then there was the ESPN.com report that general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo are being investigated as part of a federal probe into MLB’s practices of signing players in the Dominican Republic.

But for once, the Nationals found some relief inside the white lines.

“It was nice to get a lead,” said Kearns, who went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and his fourth homer of the year. “Instead of being tight, you can kind of relax.”

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