- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Washington Nationals have had dozens of nights to forget, a handful to cringe at and too few like Saturday night, where so many things went right.

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

And at the center of it all was John Lannan. In a game in which 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 on a night when it seemed like nothing could go wrong. Washington hit three home runs, jumped on Mets starter John Maine for three runs in the first inning and never had much reason to worry.

“This is probably, by far, the best complete game we’ve played all year,” left fielder Adam Dunn said. “It’s definitely something for us to build on.”

Deviating too often this season from the simple formula that helped him post a 3.91 ERA in his rookie season - commanding his sinking two-seam fastball and using it to get groundouts - Lannan was rooted in it Saturday night. It was his best start of the year and an instant candidate for one of the best of his career.

Lannan finished with 96 pitches, 61 of them strikes, and got 19 groundball outs.

“At points, I try to do too much, and don’t trust my two-seamer. Tonight, I trusted it,” Lannan said. “It had good downward action, and they weren’t able to square it up as much as they would like to. I’ve just got to trust it.”

He got a franchise record-tying five double plays, including one in each of the first four innings. Though from a highlight 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 mound and flipped it to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who tagged a sliding Castillo at second base.

Instead of a hit to put runners on first and second with no outs, the Mets 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.

“That double play in the fourth, that never happens for us,” Lannan said. “I don’t wish it on any team, but it’s cool to be on the other side, for once.”

While Lannan had little trouble with the Mets, the Nationals’ aggressive approach against Maine paid off early.

Johnson jumped on the second pitch he saw from Maine in the first inning, hitting a high fastball to center for a double. Ryan Zimmerman drove him in with a single, and 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.

In the fourth, Dukes also homered off Maine. And when Johnson hit a three-run shot in the fifth to put Washington up 7-0, Maine was done.

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

“Playing these guys a week ago, and facing pretty much the same guys, we kind of had a plan on how he was going to attack us,” Dunn said. “He obviously didn’t have his good stuff tonight, and I think we made him pay.”

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