- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Everything about the way the Washington Nationals have played over the last 13 games, eight of them wins, has suggested they’ve somehow found in this lost season a footing they never had under former manager Manny Acta.

The Nationals lost their first five games after Acta was fired and replaced with Jim Riggleman, but then they came out like a rebooted version of themselves, reeling off eight wins in 13 games with a square-jawed resolve that matched Riggleman’s.

There would be no better test of that resolve than Tuesday night, when the Nationals faced the Florida Marlins for the first time under Riggleman.

It wasn’t just that the Marlins had beaten the Nationals with Acta on the bench. It was the way they’d done it, winning 10 in a row this year and 23 of 26 with clutch homers, late-inning rallies and the occasional timely rain delay to shorten a game they happened to be winning.

For the first seven innings, it looked like Florida would wind up with another win over the Nationals that resembled so many of the other victories in the last two seasons.

But then something happened, an eighth-inning rally that defied virtually everything that’s happened between these two teams since the start of the 2008 season.

And when Adam Dunn’s two-run homer cleared the left-field fence, giving the Nationals the lead for good and setting up their first win over the Marlins since Sept. 23, 2008, it sealed what might have been Washington’s most uplifting victory this season.

The blast capped a six-run eighth, giving the Nationals a 6-4 win over the Marlins, continuing their resurgent stretch and prying a happy ending out of a game that looked for seven innings like another mass-produced Marlins victory.

Josh Johnson, the Marlins’ young ace, simply overwhelmed the Nationals with his fastball, while J.D. Martin’s soft-tossing, strike-scattering repertoire never came close to getting the job done against the Marlins’ lineup.

Martin labored for 99 pitches in just 4 1/3 innings, throwing 58 of them for strikes and leaving a few too many of them in appetizing locations for Florida’s aggressive hitters. His eighth pitch of the game, a high-inside fastball to leadoff hitter Chris Coghlan, got smacked to right field for what became a triple after Elijah Dukes misplayed it and could have been a leadoff run if Willie Harris hadn’t stopped Dukes’ wayward missile 15 feet to the right of third base.

But then Nick Johnson, auditioning for the role of the newest Nationals antagonist, scorched a single just under the glove of Adam Dunn, one of his replacements-by-committee at first base, driving in Coghlan and contributing to the misery he’d experienced so many times against the Marlins as a member of the Nationals.

In the fourth, Martin floated a full-count change-up to the middle inner half of the plate against Cody Ross - a pitch practically begging to be sent out of the ballpark - and the center fielder obliged, hitting his 18th homer of the year and fourth against Washington.

Two batters later, Martin left the third of three mid-80s fastballs over the middle of the plate, and Josh Johnson blasted it out for his third homer of the year, tying Dontrelle Willis for the most homers hit in a season by a Marlins pitcher and providing the requisite bottom-of-the-order haymaker that’s occurred in so many of these Nationals losses.

On the mound, meanwhile, Josh Johnson was nothing short of superb for the first seven innings, moving his mid-90s fastball in and out of the strike zone and setting up a hard slider that touched 89 mph on occasion.

He gave up a pair of singles in the first inning to Cristian Guzman and Josh Willingham, but didn’t give up another hit in the first seven innings. In fact, he only allowed three balls to be hit out of the infield. That all changed in the eighth.

The inning started innocently enough, with a pair of singles from Harris and Alberto Gonzalez. But Wil Nieves added another one, and Ronnie Belliard blasted a pinch-hit double that nearly skipped the left-field wall and drove in two runs.

Guzman punched a single to right, tying the game at four and with two outs, Guzman on first and left-hander Dan Meyer coming in to shut him down, Dunn delivered his precedent-defying blast.

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