- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - By the time Danny Espinosa hit his two-run homer in the eighth inning, there were only a couple of hundred fans left in the ballpark, almost all of them congregated behind the two dugouts. A couple of times there was an ad hoc chant-off between the ones in red down the first base line and those in blue on the other side.

“You can hear every word at that point,” Espinosa said. “It’s like a back-field spring training game.”

Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer in the first inning Monday night, and - thanks to an odd-moving storm that produced an interminable rain delay - Espinosa and the Washington Nationals didn’t finish off the Los Angeles Dodgers until some six hours later on Tuesday morning, holding on for a 4-0 victory and gaining sole possession of first place in the NL East.

Jordan Zimmerman pitched four shutout innings before the game was halted, and five relievers threw an inning apiece after play resumed. In between, there was an interruption of 3 hours, 17 minutes while a narrow, cigar-shaped storm took its time soaking D.C. and not much else.

“You certainly wait around that long, you want to win the game,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said.

Aaron Barrett (2-0) got the win mainly because he happened to be Washington’s first reliever when play resumed. Zack Greinke (5-1) got a hard-luck first loss of the season, and plate umpire John Tumpane became the MVP for calling strikes and getting the game done in a reasonable hurry once the tarp was removed. There were four strikeouts before the delay, 16 after it.

“We don’t get off to a good start, they get a couple quick runs, and then obviously a three-hour delay in there and lose Zack,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Really, we had chances, we just didn’t do anything.”

The rain limited Greinke to three innings, ending a streak that had been unmatched for a century. He had 18 consecutive regular-season starts of at least five innings while allowing two runs or fewer - the longest such run in the majors since 1914.

“It’s not really like it’s an important streak; no one really cares about it anyway,” Greinke said. “If it was like a consecutive win streak or something more important than that, it would mean a little more.”

Dodgers slugger Yasiel Puig sat out the marathon, still sore after crashing into an outfield wall in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 5-4 road loss to the Miami Marlins. Manager Don Mattingly said Puig remained day to day and declined to say directly whether a concussion has been ruled out.

Nationals left fielder Nate McLouth had his own crash-into-wall injury in the eighth inning, when he made a sliding backhand catch of a foul ball. Both hands and both knees hit the wall hard, and his right hand was bleeding as he walked off the field.

Williams said McLouth wasn’t seriously hurt. The cut didn’t require stitches, although a banged-up knee will almost certainly be sore for a while.

Zimmermann held the fort until the middle of the fourth, when the dozens of bags of sands poured on the infield by the grounds crew were no longer a match for the weather. The fans who stayed behind were treated to a scoreboard broadcast of their city-sports-brethren Washington Wizards winning an NBA playoff game.

Also shown during the delay was the Atlanta Braves’ loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, which helped the Nationals vault into first in the division. The fans who remained when play resumed had unusually good odds when it came to chasing a foul ball, or catching a T-shirt tossed into the stands as part of a standard promotion.

“Fans are going crazy,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a game, you have to play no matter how many fans are out there. The place wasn’t exactly rocking, but it was a game we had to play.”

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