- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

MIAMI — The ball came screaming off Wily Mo Pena’s bat, a low line drive that looked like it barely would clear the third baseman’s head. And then it kept carrying. Into left field. Toward the 330-foot sign down in the corner. And, yes, over the fence.

As he described Pena’s fuel-injected rocket — one of two homers for the Washington Nationals slugger in a 5-4 victory over the Florida Marlins last night — general manager Jim Bowden could think of only one comparable blast in his memory bank.

“Dave Parker in 1980,” Bowden said. “He’s the only other guy I’ve ever seen hit one like that.”

There was plenty from last night’s win at rainy and empty Dolphin Stadium for Bowden and the Nationals to gush about. It included another strong pitching performance by Shawn Hill, who finally was rewarded with his first win in nearly four months.

But few players in this game have the ability to amaze with their sheer power. And that’s why Pena was unquestionably the center of attention after this one; few other major leaguers have the brute strength to hit a baseball 339 feet deep and 15 feet high.

“Unbelievable,” manager Manny Acta said. “I mean, way too many guys didn’t even believe that ball was going out. It was just a bullet. Only he can hit a ball like that.”

Pena’s shot came in the third inning with the Nationals already leading 1-0 and a man on first. Marlins starter Scott Olsen threw a full-count change-up, and Washington’s newly acquired slugger turned on it with authority. Within seconds, it rattled off the fold-up stands behind the left-field fence at this football stadium-turned-ballpark. It’s possible the ball was still rising.

“As soon as I hit, I just started running because I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a line drive,’” Pena said. “So when I saw it [go over the fence] when I was at second base, I was like, ‘[Wow], how did that ball go?’ I was surprised. I’m still surprised that ball was gone.”

Pena’s second homer of the night and seventh in 21 games since joining the Nationals was more conventional: a 418-foot drive to left in the fifth inning that put the visitors up 4-1 and put Hill (4-3) in line to earn his first win since May 11.

Forgive the right-hander if he felt a chill when he strolled to the mound. This was, after all, the scene of Hill’s frustrating left shoulder injury, a brief dislocation suffered while diving into third base that disrupted his entire season.

Hill believes the shoulder injury affected his throwing mechanics and put strain on his surgically repaired right elbow, all of which landed him on the disabled list for three months.

The shoulder still isn’t completely healed and limits Hill’s ability to swing a bat. He will have offseason surgery to repair it, and while the 26-year-old was hoping to wait until after he pitched in the Fall Instructional League in Florida, Bowden said yesterday Hill will have the surgery as soon as the season ends.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to go ahead and get it done,” the pitcher said. “I’d like to get the extra innings in. But at the same time, if I go into spring training 100 percent healthy, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

The Nationals aren’t worried at all about Hill. There are few questions about his place on next year’s staff. Barring some unforeseen turn of events, he will be starting on Opening Day 2008.

Hill furthered his case for that honor with last night’s six-inning performance, in which he scattered six hits, struck out four and allowed one earned run to lower his ERA to 2.87.

Hill surely would have retaken the mound for the seventh if not for a 40-minute rain delay in the top of the inning that turned what was already a minute gathering of fans into a near-empty stadium.

Attendance was announced as 12,345, but there appeared to be 1,000 people in the building when the game started and perhaps 100 when it resumed following the delay.

Those precious souls who stuck around watched as the Marlins made things interesting on Mike Jacobs’ two-run homer off Jesus Colome. But the rest of Washington’s bullpen shut the door, with Chad Cordero tossing a perfect ninth to earn his 33rd save.

The win put some more distance between the Nationals and Marlins, who now languish in last place in the NL East, four games back. Washington (65-79) ensured the franchise’s first season-series victory over Florida since 1998.

“Baby steps,” Acta said. “For years, we have been coming down here and having a tough time to beat these guys. It’s an accomplishment for those guys in that locker room.”

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