- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

Exactly two months into the 2009 season, the Washington Nationals had plenty of nights to forget, a few to cringe at and too few like Saturday night, where so many things went right, they would have liked to bottle whatever magic confluence of circumstances happened and figure out how to mass-produce it for posterity.

More than 30,000 fans packed Nationals Park (though plenty of them were rooting for the visiting New York Mets). The Nationals’ too-often deplorable defense was borderline superb, and their offense rediscovered the juice it had been missing in a 15-game stretch where the team had scored five runs or more just four times.

And at the center of it all was John Lannan, the Opening Day starter who had spent the first two months of the year trading flashes of his impressive rookie season with spats of inconsistency. On this Saturday night, when everything was going right for the Nationals, Lannan turned in his first career complete game.

The left-hander’s nine-inning, four-hit, one-unearned-run masterpiece highlighted a 7-1 Nationals win over the Mets. The team hit three home runs, jumped on Mets starter John Maine for three runs in the first inning and never had much reason to worry. But Lannan made it all possible.

Deviating too often this season from the simple formula that helped him post a 3.91 ERA in his rookie season — commanding his fastball and using it to get groundouts — Lannan was rooted in it on Saturday night. And the result was probably his best start of the year.

Lannan threw just 69 pitches to get through the first seven innings, walking three but giving up only one hit in that span. He finished with 96 pitches, 61 of them strikes.

He got a franchise record-tying five double plays, including one in each of the first four innings, though from a pure did-you-see-that standpoint, none could top the one in the fourth inning.

Emil Brown drove a sinking liner to right field that fell just below Elijah Dukes’ sliding attempt to catch it — only Luis Castillo, who had gone halfway from first, started retreating, thinking Dukes had caught the ball. When Brown rounded first, he started waving Castillo toward second, but it was too late; Brown was automatically out for passing Castillo on the basepath.

Dukes, meanwhile, launched a sitting-down throw that sailed past cutoff man Anderson Hernandez into the infield. Seeing Hernandez would have no shot to catch the ball, Nick Johnson broke from first base to retrieve the ball just behind the pitcher’s mound and flipped it to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who tagged a sliding Castillo just before he reached second base.

Instead of a hit to put runners on first and second with none out, the Mets had killed their rally with a once-in-a-decade double play, technically scored a fielder’s choice and a 9-3-6 putout at second.

While Lannan had little trouble with a Mets lineup limping from injuries, the Nationals’ aggressive approach against Maine yielded one of their best offensive efforts in three weeks.

Cristian Guzman swung at Maine’s first pitch, lashing a hard liner right at first baseman Fernando Tatis. But then Johnson jumped on the second pitch he saw from Maine, hitting a high fastball to center for a double. Ryan Zimmerman drove him in with a single over shortstop Wilson Valdez’s head, and Adam Dunn smashed a high inside fastball off the ribbon scoreboard separating the upper and lower deck in center field for a two-run homer, again on the first pitch he saw.

Dukes would also homer off Maine, on an 0-1 pitch in the fourth inning, and when Johnson hit a three-run shot in the fifth to put Washington up 7-0, Maine was done for the night.

The Fredericksburg, Va., native needed 68 pitches to get three batters into the fifth inning, or one less than Lannan threw in his first seven innings.

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