- 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.

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 majors-worst 5.69 ERA). Then they learned Jesus Flores’ right shoulder contusion was a stress fracture that would keep the promising catcher out three months, if not the rest of the year.

Lincecum 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.

Losers of 18 of their last 21 games, the Nationals began a nine-game homestand with a win that had plenty of cathartic value. They stood firm against Lincecum, weathered one of the paralyzing mistakes that usually costs them a victory and romped back for six runs in the eighth against the Giants’ bullpen.

The Nationals got to Lincecum early, letting him run 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.

Right-hander Craig Stammen was never sharp against the free-swinging Giants, throwing just 49 of his 82 pitches for strikes and getting his third pitch of the game swatted into the left-field seats by Aaron Rowand. But his sinking fastball induced enough groundouts that he could have gotten through six innings in relative calm.

Then, like a pothole in the middle of the freeway, the Nationals ran into one of those comic sequences that have turned stocks of would-be wins into losses this year.

Stammen gave up back-to-back singles to start the fifth inning and promptly raced to the edge of escape with a pair of quick outs. The Nationals rarely slip out of these situations, though, and with runners on second and third, Stammen bounced a pitch that turned the game.

His first-pitch change-up 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. The Giants eventually stretched the lead to 5-2 thanks in part to a Cristian Guzman error.

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

Willie Harris led off the sixth with a double to right, and Bard drove him in with a single to left. When Renteria fired high over first and Anderson Hernandez was spared a double play, the Nationals scored a run in a style that’s often foreign to them: They manufactured it.

Hernandez took second on the error, then stole third. Ronnie Belliard pinch-hit for Stammen, driving a fly ball to center deep enough for Hernandez to tag up and score, pulling Washington within one.

The Nationals’ next rally, the one they needed to take the lead, was just as methodical.

A pair of singles started the eighth inning, and with the infield creeping in, 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 three.

Joel Hanrahan gave up one in the ninth, but by then, the Nationals had scored enough runs to paper over their mistakes.

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