- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

At the end of one of the longest days in a wearying two months, the name the Washington Nationals didn’t want to see on the opposing lineup card was Tim Lincecum.

The 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner had faced the Nationals twice before Tuesday, and Washington had scored a total of two runs off him.

Even worse, the Nationals started the day by answering questions about popular pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who was ousted Monday night as a proxy sacrifice for the pitching staff’s ineptitude (a major league-worst 5.69 ERA). Then they learned Jesus Flores’ right shoulder contusion was in fact a stress fracture that would keep the promising catcher out three months, if not the rest of the year.

And then came Lincecum, who had struck out 13 in his 14 career innings against the Nationals. Seeing him on the mound felt like a formality. Instead, it turned into an uplifting 10-6 victory in which the Nationals weathered the kind of paralyzing mistake that usually costs them a victory and romped back for six runs in the eighth against the Giants’ bullpen.

“Everybody knows that effort hasn’t been the issue with these guys. They haven’t given up at all offensively,” manager Manny Acta said. “It was a total team effort. Everybody chipped in.”

Losers of 18 of their last 21 games, the Nationals got to Lincecum early, running his pitch count to 60 by the end of the third inning. His spring-loaded delivery occasionally didn’t rotate all the way through, and he missed inside against right-handers. Josh Bard tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer to center in the second, and after Adam Dunn doubled off the wall in left center in the third, Washington took a 2-1 lead when Uribe couldn’t handle Elijah Dukes’ hard grounder down the third-base line.

“That’s the key to any Cy Young pitcher you face,” Dukes said. “You have to bring them down a little bit where they have to throw too many pitches early in the game and kind of minimize and throw more strikes than they’d like.”

Right-hander Craig Stammen was never sharp against the free-swinging Giants, with his third pitch of the game swatted into the left-field seats by Aaron Rowand. But his sinking fastball induced enough groundouts that he needed just 82 pitches in six innings.

He could have gotten through all of them with relative calm. Like a pothole in the middle of the freeway, though, the Nationals ran into one of those comic sequences that have turned plenty of would-be wins into losses this year.

With runners on second and third, Stammen’s first-pitch curveball got away from Bard, allowing Fred Lewis to score. Bard raced to pick up the ball and tried shovel-passing it to Stammen. But it swooped over his head, and Juan Uribe scored to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.

Stammen missed low with three of his next four pitches, walking Rowand, and then gave up back-to-back singles to Edgar Renteria and Randy Winn.

But Stammen’s gaffes turned out to be nothing more than a footnote.

The Nationals, who entered the night hitting .242 with men in scoring position, manufactured a run in the sixth to get within one at 5-4. Then they continued the foreign pattern by methodically putting together a rally in the eighth.

A pair of singles started the inning, and pinch hitter Alberto Gonzalez sent two bunt attempts foul. He took a slider outside and slapped a fastball just through the hole between second and short to score Wil Nieves.

Guzman’s go-ahead single was another bleeder, this time through the right side of the infield. And Ryan Zimmerman punched a double to the right-field wall off Bob Howry, making the lead 8-5.

It was five by the time Joel Hanrahan entered in the ninth. He gave up a run, but by then the Nationals had papered over their mistakes.

“We battled [Lincecum] all night. Stammen kind of battled after he got hit around a little bit, hung in there as long as he could,” Zimmerman said. “It was a good team win.”

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