- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

ST. LOUIS — By the time last night’s 5-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals was over, even the Washington Nationals found themselves replaying the game through their minds and recognizing just how impressive it was.

“It was an awesome game,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “It was an all-around good baseball game, and the fans got their money’s worth. … It’s not just for the fans. We have fun playing those games, too.”

The Nationals looked like they were having all kinds of fun toppling the defending World Series champions en route to their 11th win in 15 games. This latest victory, before a crowd of 43,618 at Busch Stadium, featured so many standout moments it was hard for everyone to keep track of them all.

It boasted some clutch hits from some unlikely sources: Schneider, who hit his second homer in three days, and No. 8 hitter Nook Logan, who had two doubles and two RBI to lead the offense.

It featured a solid pitching performance from Micah Bowie (1-2), who went five innings to earn his first win as a starter since Sept. 23, 1999.

It included a stellar job by reliever Jesus Colome, who bailed out Jon Rauch in the eighth by recording three outs on six pitches.

And mostly, it was highlighted by a string of great defensive plays from second baseman Felipe Lopez (who made two diving stops in crucial situations) and right fielder Austin Kearns (who made perhaps the play of the year in robbing Jim Edmonds of an extra-base hit in the sixth inning).

“That pumps you up,” Bowie said. “When guys are going out there and making plays and doing things like that … I don’t know if you can go harder than you already go, but you definitely want to make pitches because your teammates are going hard.”

Bowie, still making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, made the most of his 83 pitches. Unlike his last outing, when he lasted only 31/3 innings, this time he made it through five and put himself in line for the win.

Even when the lefty did show some signs of faltering in the fifth, his defense came to the rescue. With one out and a man on second, Lopez went sprawling to catch David Eckstein’s line drive. It was undoubtedly a highlight-reel play by the Washington second baseman, but it would qualify as the club’s best of the night only for a few minutes.

That’s because Kearns one-upped his longtime teammate with his standout catch in the sixth. With runners on first and second, one out and reliever Winston Abreu trying to protect a three-run lead, Edmonds drilled a ball toward the right-field fence. Kearns sprinted to the warning track and dived just in time to make a spectacular, over-the-shoulder catch as he slid into the base of the fence.

“I wasn’t going after it to play it off the wall,” he said. “I was going to try to catch it. And as it got closer, I realized I was going to have a chance.”

If that weren’t enough, Kearns hopped to his feet and fired the ball back to first base, where Dmitri Young caught it and beat Scott Rolen to the bag for a stunning, inning-ending double play that will be hard to be duplicated the rest of the season.

“That’s number one, number one tonight,” Lopez said. “That’s one of the greatest plays I’ve seen.”

Kearns’ gem saved at least two runs, and that proved crucial as the night played out because the Cardinals chipped away at the lead. They scored one run in the seventh when Young couldn’t haul in Cristian Guzman’s double-play turn, allowing Aaron Miles to score.

They scored another in the eighth when Rauch, mired in a weeklong funk, surrendered three straight ground-ball singles before getting unceremoniously yanked by manager Manny Acta in favor of Colome.

“I needed a guy who could strike out guys and has some overpowering stuff like Colome has,” Acta said. “I trust him … on any given day. He’s been solid for us the whole year. He did a great job today picking Jon up.”

Washington’s best pitcher to date lived up to the billing. With the tying run on second and one out, he struck out Edmonds and then got Yadier Molina to ground into a double play to preserve the Nationals’ one-run lead. Chad Cordero pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his seventh save and propel the resurgent Nationals to yet another win.

“It’s fun for all of us,” Schneider said. “We know the pitching staff’s going to do it. Guys are hitting, getting some key hits. We’re going to ride this as long as it lasts.”

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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