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Nats come through in the clutch, top Cardinals 8-6

Of all of the unattractive stats that have marked the Washington Nationals offense this season, one of the most confounding was their inability to produce with runners in scoring position.

"We've just got to keep putting them out there," manager Jim Riggleman would insist after each game his team saw numerous opportunities go to waste. On their just-completed 6-5 road trip, the Nationals were a head-shakingly ineffective 13-for-91 with runners in scoring position.

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The trend continued for much of Tuesday night — until, that is, the seventh inning when the Nationals sent 12 batters to the plate, tagged three St. Louis Cardinals pitchers for six runs off five hits. Included in the mix were three walks, one hit batter and one game-tying wild pitch. When the inning was over, the Nationals had gone from blowout losers to comeback sweethearts, 8-6.

"We don't carry the past with us," said outfielder Laynce Nix, who walked to force in the go-ahead run in an 11-pitch at-bat that featured six foul balls. "I think it's important that we pulled out those games and won them. Even though we didn't come through all the time, and the stats may not look good, there's key at-bats in the games that make a difference.

"We've done a great job of not letting the burden of our past keep us from winning games. We stay in the moment really well. I think the guys have shown that. And we'll continue winning games as long as we look forward."

The Nationals overcome yet another shaky start from Yunesky Maya in winning their fourth straight, and there were plenty of plays that Washington can hope to build on.

There was an infield single that Ian Desmond beat out after Jayson Werth had walked. There was the welcome-back moment for Ryan Zimmerman, a double into the right-field corner — the third time Tuesday night he had come up with runners on and his first hit since April 7 — that drove in Werth. There was the RBI groundout by Michael Morse that followed back-to-back singles by Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos and Roger Bernadina being hit by a pitch. And then there were the 12 pitches that a combination of Cardinals pitchers threw to pinch hitters Ivan Rodriguez and Nix — eleven to Nix and one wild one to Rodriguez.

"I was ready to go for any ball in the dirt," said Espinosa, who stood poised on third base with the Nationals trailing 6-5. "Yadier [Molina] is really good behind home plate, he doesn't let too many balls get by. ... It kicked up, and the second I saw it, I was ready to go."

One batter later, Nix stood in for Jerry Hairston and was fed five straight fastballs from flame-throwing Jason Motte — none below 96 mph. He tossed in a cutter at 92 and Nix sent it, and his broken bat, looping foul down the right-field line, inches from being the go-ahead hit.

"It was close," Nix said with a smile. "But I could tell it was foul pretty quick."

Motte ramped it back up to 97 for Ball 3, and he'd two more 98 mph fastballs along with another cutter that Nix fouled off. On the 11th pitch, Nix didn't offer.

"Fortunately, he missed by a lot on the last one," he said. Instead, he walked to first base and saw what proved to be the game-winning run trot home.

"That was a great at bat," Riggleman said. "Motte was firing."

"He's been doing it all year," Zimmerman said. "He's probably our most consistent player. ... He's a heck of a player. He's a great pickup for our team. Hopefully, he can be here for a long time."

It was, as Werth said, "probably the biggest at-bat of the game," but each time the Nationals cashed in with a runner in scoring position Tuesday night (they were 5-for-13) was a big at-bat.

"It was just some really timely at bats, period," Riggleman said. "Tonight, we got a couple breaks and it speaks to just keep playing; you get down several runs, you just keep playing and you never know what happens. Everybody kept playing, and it fell through for us."

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