- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shairon Martis’ first career win came in an otherwise unmemorable late-September game, with few in attendance and little on the line.

The Washington Nationals‘ 9-4 victory eliminated the Florida Marlins from the playoff race, though hopes were slim to begin with. It also was witnessed by only 20,657 fans, the smallest crowd of the season at Nationals Park.

Martis, of course, won’t remember any of those insignificant details decades from now when he tells his grandchildren about one of the most important nights of his life.

“For sure, I will remember this night,” he said. “I won’t forget about it.”

A pitcher’s first major league win is hardly insignificant, and so the Nationals gave Martis the full treatment for his efforts Tuesday night. There was a game ball waiting in his locker, a shaving cream pie to the face as he gave a postgame TV interview and the admiration of his parents (Richard and Aethlym Martis, who flew in from Curacao last week).

“It’s real special,” catcher Wil Nieves said. “He was in Class A last year, and the next year he’s in the big leagues. … It just feels great to be a part of it. I know he’s always going to remember his first win.”

The 21-year-old right-hander had pitched well enough to win two of his previous three starts but was done in by poor run support. That wasn’t a problem Tuesday, and because of it Martis reached another milestone in his burgeoning career, tossing 5 1/3 innings of three-run ball.

“Regardless of what he did today, this kid has made a lot of progress,” manager Manny Acta said. “This kid was pitching in Potomac last year. We’re very proud and happy for the kid.”

The Nationals (59-98) gave their young starter an early cushion when Ryan Zimmerman slammed a two-run homer to left in the first inning. It was Zimmerman’s second homer in as many games, this after a lengthy stretch in which his power numbers faded as he recovered from the shoulder injury that knocked him out two months earlier this season.

Things didn’t go entirely smooth from there, with Lastings Milledge twice getting picked off in the same inning, a feat that sounds impossible yet became reality when left-hander Scott Olsen’s first pickoff throw ricocheted off first baseman Mike Jacobs’ glove for an error. Milledge advanced to second base, but moments later he was picked off again (and this time successfully thrown out).

No matter, because the Nationals kept up the pressure, adding a run in the third, another in the fifth, still another in the sixth and then erupted for four in the eighth to break things open.

Among those making major contributions was Alberto Gonzalez, filling in for an flu-stricken Cristian Guzman at shortstop. The young infielder arrived from the New York Yankees two months ago with a reputation for smooth defense and little offense. He hasn’t fit the description.

In 13 games with Washington now, Gonzalez is hitting .410 (16-for-39) with seven RBI and seven extra-base hits, establishing himself as a viable backup option for Guzman.

“All I heard was how good he was with the glove,” Acta said. “The people who knew him categorized him as being able to probably hit .250, .260 in the big leagues. That’s probably where he’s at right now, if you put together the at-bats he had with the Yankees. So I wouldn’t say [I’m} surprised, but I like what I see.”

In Tuesday’s game, Gonzalez picked up four more hits, including an RBI single in the sixth and an RBI double in the eighth that gave the Nationals’ bullpen some breathing room to finish things off.

Acta’s new-look relief corps did just that. Steven Shell entered for a fading Martis in the sixth, with two on and one out. And though the Marlins pushed one run across, Shell rebounded to get a double-play grounder out of Josh Willingham, ending the rally.

The real star, though, was Mike Hinckley, who continued his stunning big-league introduction with two more scoreless innings. The rookie left-hander held the Marlins in check in both the seventh and eighth, leaving him unscored upon in 11 2/3 innings since arriving from Class AAA Columbus and still trying to fathom what exactly this all means.

“This has been just an amazing experience,” Hinckley said. “I’m going to get home in the offseason and just think about this month. I’ll probably end up breaking down in tears because I’ll be so excited.”