- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PITTSBURGH | When the bullpen gate swung open in the fifth inning Monday night, Tyler Clippard came jogging in with one thought in mind: Get out of this bases-loaded, no-out jam without allowing a run.

Such visions of grandeur aren’t common among pitchers, most of whom would fully admit they would be willing to give up one run under that scenario and just keep things manageable.

Clippard, though, sensed an opportunity to keep the Washington Nationals within three runs of the Pittsburgh Pirates and keep the outcome of this game in question.

“It’s not always easy with no outs and the bases loaded,” he said. “But I was going to do what I can. … I was going to do everything I could to keep those guys from scoring.”

With one unexpected and dazzling double play, Clippard managed to do just that. He saved the inning and in the process saved the ballgame, allowing the Nationals to escape PNC Park with an 8-4 victory that earlier didn’t seem possible.

“That was it right there,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said of the 1-2-3 double play. “That was really the huge point in the game for us.”

Washington’s victory still wouldn’t have been possible without an eight-run barrage in the sixth and seventh innings, a prolonged spate of hits that turned this ballgame upside down. But everyone inside the visitors’ clubhouse agreed that Clippard’s great escape - he got Delwyn Young to ground into the double play and then got Andy LaRoche to pop out - set the tone for everything that followed.

“For him to come into that situation and shut the door, that was the game,” first baseman Adam Dunn said.

Clippard wasn’t finished earning his sixth career win. He followed up the bases-loaded escape with two more hitless innings, making up for Garrett Mock’s rough start and giving the Nationals’ lineup time to produce the winning rallies.

Stymied for five innings by rookie right-hander Charlie Morton, Washington finally sprang to life thanks to a three-run homer from Dunn. The big slugger’s 27th homer of the year wasn’t a typical blast but rather an opposite-field poke that snaked just inside the foul pole.

“I have no idea how I hit it out,” he admitted. “I was just late. That’s why I went over there.”

No matter how he hit it, Dunn’s homer gave the Nationals the lead. And it set the stage for even more offense an inning later. Despite back-to-back strikeouts to open the seventh, Washington wound up scoring four more runs thanks in large part to a Cristian Guzman triple and a Ryan Zimmerman homer that left the sparse crowd of 11,630 booing.

That the Nationals even had the opportunity to retake the lead after another shaky start from Mock was astounding. In his fourth outing since getting called up from Class AAA Syracuse, the right-hander was all over the place. In four innings plus three batters, he allowed seven hits, walked four and required three mound visits from pitching coach Steve McCatty.

The right-hander dominated in the minors before his promotion, going 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA in eight starts. But he hasn’t come close to mastering big league hitters, as evidenced by his 0-4 record, 6.75 ERA and 65 men put on base in 30 2/3 innings with Washington this season.

“Like I’ve said after every start, you take it for what it is,” Mock said. “There’s always something to be learned from it. With the way I pitched today, there’s a couple mistakes I made, a couple pitches I didn’t feel great about. But there’s always something to learn from.”

Despite his struggles Monday, Mock somehow allowed only three runs, all of them coming in the first via an Andrew McCutchen leadoff homer (the rookie’s fourth of the series) and a couple of singles aided by an Elijah Dukes error.

Still, the 26-year-old left his team in a tenuous spot, loading the bases with no outs in the fifth before Riggleman pulled him. Clippard entered from the bullpen hoping to somehow wriggle his way out of that jam without allowing the Pirates to extend their lead.

Little did he - or the Nationals - realize he would make the play that would turn the game around and allow his team to head home in good spirits.

“I think that was a big momentum changer for the whole team - not just for myself,” Clippard said. “It was nice to get us in the dugout without them scoring and let our offense get a little spark under them.

“They did, and we won. It was awesome.”

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