- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

Jason Simontacchi has been through a lot since Sept. 20, 2003 — the day he picked up his final win of the season in relief against the Houston Astros.

He spent a year bouncing back and forth between the St. Louis bullpen and Class AAA Memphis. He missed an entire season because of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He tried to come back with the Cubs last season but was cut in spring training.

When his shoulder was finally healthy enough for him to pitch, it was out of the bullpen for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.

So when catcher Jesus Flores threw to first to complete Jon Rauch’s strikeout of Dan Uggla and seal a 6-4 victory for the Washington Nationals against the Florida Marlins yesterday at RFK Stadium, Simontacchi (1-1) had plenty to think about while the team celebrated his first victory in nearly 44 months.

“I was sitting there when Rauch was on the mound, and I just started thinking about how it has been a long time and it is another blessing from God. It really is, and I appreciate it,” Simontacchi said. “It is nice — real nice. Hard work pays off and just sticking my nose to the grindstone.”

A little less than 15 hours after clinching their first series win of the season, the Nationals completed their first sweep. After returning home Thursday with an eight-game losing skid, Washington now welcomes first-place Atlanta to RFK tonight in the midst of a season-best three-game winning streak.

“It means a lot,” manager Manny Acta said. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do still. We need every win we can get, and it is not going to get any easier starting tomorrow.”

Washington secured all the runs it would need with a five-run second against Florida starter Wes Obermueller (1-2). The inning was prolonged by Miguel Cabrera’s bobble, which helped Felipe Lopez beat the throw to first on an attempted double play. Cristian Guzman broke the game open with a two-out, two-run triple to right that a diving Joe Borchard missed by inches.

Flores also had an RBI single in the inning and added an insurance run in the sixth with a two-out single. The 22-year-old Rule 5 draftee from the Mets is now hitting .321 in 28 at-bats. Flores must stay on the roster all season or be offered back to New York for $25,000, but he is doing his part to stick around.

“I can’t say enough about this kid,” Acta said. “It has only been a month and a half, and there is a lot of baseball left, but I keep telling people how impressed I am with him and how he has handled himself. He is soaking in every [piece of] information possible from [bench coach] Pat Corrales and Brian Schneider. He can follow our game plan and block balls, and he is not looking overmatched at all at the plate. That two-out single was huge. It actually kind of brought the momentum back to our side.”

Simontacchi went 51/3 innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks while striking out four. The overall line might not be great, but for five innings he was. He stayed out of trouble by picking off Uggla at second base one inning and with the help of a rare 5-4-3 putout to end another. Through five innings, nearly three of every four pitches (45 of 62) he threw were strikes.

The performance unraveled a bit in the sixth. Uggla picked up his second double of the game and fifth of the series when left fielder Ryan Church lost the ball in the sun. After Cabrera walked, the Marlins collected three softly hit singles in a row. Simontacchi departed one batter later after Alfredo Amezaga’s sacrifice fly but not without a rousing ovation from an announced crowd of 20,486.

“You see his makeup and what he is all about, and I don’t doubt it,” first baseman Robert Fick said. “No matter where he’s been or how low he has been in his career you can just see the attitude he has, the way he treats his teammates and the way he goes about his business. Good things happen to people who do good things.”

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