- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

If this was Alfonso Soriano and Livan Hernandez’s final home game, the Washington Nationals’ stars left town in style.

With Monday’s trade deadline looming, Soriano and Hernandez perhaps gave Nationals fans a lasting memory in a 6-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants at RFK Stadium yesterday. Soriano blasted his sixth leadoff homer and Hernandez evened his record after struggling through the first half of the season trying to regain strength in his surgically repaired right knee.

The Nationals might look dramatically different — sans Soriano and Hernandez — when they return home Aug. 8 from a nine-game West Coast road trip that begins tonight in Los Angeles.

Then again, they might not.

Suddenly, the Nationals (46-56) are on baseball’s longest winning streak. Soriano and Hernandez played integral parts in keeping the team undefeated since RFK’s “grand reopening” last Friday. Soriano clubbed his 32nd home run of the season and Hernandez allowed just three runs over seven innings, as the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of the reeling Giants (51-51) and a perfect six-game homestand.

The Nationals’ six-game roll, which brought the club within 10 games of .500 for the first time since June 21, is their longest of the season.

“If [Soriano’s] going to go, I think [his teammates] want to send him out on a good note, or they want to put a lot of pressure on management to keep him here by winning ballgames,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “I haven’t heard them say that, but I can feel that.”

Soriano, who went 1-for-2 yesterday with a home run, one RBI, two walks, and two runs scored, tied Houston’s Craig Biggio for the major league lead for the most leadoff home runs.

After the game, a smiling Soriano said he didn’t think yesterday was his last game in Washington because he’s still here. Soriano’s homer tied him with Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard for second place in the National League, one behind leader Albert Pujols, whose St. Louis Cardinals played last night.

“It’s a very good feeling, especially if this is my last game, I hit a leadoff homer for my fans and here in D.C.,” Soriano said. “It’s a very special moment.”

Soriano is baseball’s hottest commodity. He made the transition from second base to left field and produced an All-Star season. With the Nationals playing well of late, Soriano said it would be hard to change teams.

“Now that we’re playing better, I’m going to be very sad if I have to leave,” Soriano said.

Meanwhile, Hernandez (8-8, 5.70 ERA) stated emphatically after the game that he doesn’t want to leave the franchise. Other than giving up a solo homer to Giants catcher Eliezer Alfonzo in the third that tied the game 1-1 and a two-run fourth inning, he retired the final 10 batters he faced.

As the game wore on, Hernandez appeared to get stronger. Early in the game, his fastest pitch was topping out at 83 mph on the radar gun. When he left the game in the seventh inning, his fastball was clocked at 86 mph.

“I’m not going to feel good if they trade me somewhere,” said Hernandez, who posted his fifth quality start in his last six outings, going 3-0 in those starts. “I’m here and I’m still here. I’m not going to think about that. I want to be here, I want to be in the new stadium.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman figures to be a fixture in the new stadium on South Capitol Street scheduled to open in 2008. Zimmerman, a leading candidate for NL rookie of the year honors, gave Hernandez a 3-1 lead to work with by hitting a two-run homer in the third to the alley in left-center field off Giants starter Matt Cain (7-7).

Eight of Zimmerman’s 13 home runs this season have either tied the game or given the Nationals the lead. Zimmerman has a major league leading 43 hits with runners in scoring position and has eight RBI in his last six games.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the seventh on Nick Johnson’s two-out, bases-loaded single off Giants reliever Jonathan Sanchez. Austin Kearns, who recorded his first multi-hit game as a National by going 3-for-4, then drove in Zimmerman with a single to center.

Washington’s Chad Cordero picked up his 17th save but surrendered a two-run homer to Alfonzo before striking out Todd Greene to end the game.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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