- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

There are no big pronouncements or telling signs to be drawn from the Washington Nationals’ 5-4 win yesterday. Yes, the Nationals ended a nine-game losing streak and beat an Atlanta Braves team that came in having won 23 of 39 against them the last two years. But one win won’t have any kind of coming-out-of-the-desert meaning for them, not if they can’t add to it.

In fact, the most obvious effect was shown when general manager Jim Bowden strolled into manager Manny Acta’s office after the game and exulted, “Manny! One in a row! Only 3½ out of first!”

But for a team that had found just about every way possible to lose a baseball game in the last week and a half, it was cathartic to know they could win one even with a few warts.

Photos:Nats’ first home stand a tough one

The Nationals avoided a winless first true homestand at Nationals Park despite turning a five-run lead into a one-run margin, handing Atlanta a run on a dropped fly ball, missing out on an insurance run when Lastings Milledge was thrown out at home and cutting closer Chad Cordero’s first appearance of the year short when he loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth. And from all that, the team prepares for an eight-game road trip with a fresh outlook.

“You lose nine games in a row, you aren’t just going to come out here and win 11-0, because obviously you’re not playing well,” said catcher Paul Lo Duca, who came out of the game in the eighth inning unable to hold a bat after he was hit by a pitch in the third and bruised his right hand. “You’ve got to keep grinding, and we did that today.”

Washington scored all five of its runs in the first three innings, two of them coming on bases-loaded walks and only one being set up by an extra-base hit. That’s as positive a development as the Nationals could have hoped for in one day.

A big proponent of on-base percentage, Acta said earlier this week it seemed like some players were trying to end the losing streak by “winning two games with one swing.” Yesterday, he found a team willing to build its lead by being patient.

“Oh, boy, was I happy in that inning,” Acta said. “What we’ve been preaching to the guys is it’s about having quality at-bats. Today they put together a bunch of good at-bats. Do you want a gapper with the bases loaded? Sure. Do you want to be chasing a pitch out of the strike zone looking for that gapper? No.”

Things didn’t stay comfortable for the Nationals, however. They hardly ever do with the Braves.

Tim Redding, effective through five innings despite control problems, gave up a two-run homer to Chipper Jones and a double to Mark Teixeira in the sixth before leaving the game. Ray King and Saul Rivera finished the inning for Redding (2-1), but the Braves managed another run to cut the lead to 5-3. That kept the score close enough that Acta, who had planned to finish the game with Luis Ayala, was forced to use him in the eighth and make Cordero’s first outing of the season a ninth-inning appearance.

And Atlanta got within one in the eighth inning when Wily Mo Pena, in his first game back from a torn oblique muscle, dropped Mark Kotsay’s line drive and allowed Jeff Francoeur to score.

In what third baseman Ryan Zimmerman called “a typical ninth inning for us,” Cordero walked Yunel Escobar and gave up a double to Jones before issuing an intentional walk to Teixeira. But Jon Rauch, who had not allowed a hit in eight previous at-bats against Brian McCann, got the catcher to fly out on a first-pitch fastball and seal a Nationals win.

“We’ve been playing hard, and things just haven’t been going our way,” Rauch said. “It’s huge right now that we get this one into the road trip because it’s been a horrid homestand.”

The Nationals start their road trip tomorrow against the Mets before visiting the Marlins and Braves, who went a combined 5-1 against them this week. No one is implying everything is fixed, but after the losing streak blotted out its 3-0 start, Washington needed to feel good again.

“It means a lot,” Milledge said. “We want to win nine in a row, so it started today.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT NATIONALS PARK

The Nationals’ first legitimate homestand at Nationals Park ended a lot better than it started — both on the field and at the gate. The team drew an average of nearly 30,000 fans for the three-game weekend series against the Braves, including 32,532 on Saturday. A vocal crowd of 29,051 watched Washington end its nine-game losing streak yesterday.Team president Stan Kasten said earlier in the week he was happy with the crowds against the Marlins (which hovered in the low 20,000s). Clearly not concerned that the low attendance would hurt the megadeal he’s likely to receive in the next several years, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman explained it with the early week temperatures (which hovered in the low 50s).

“I wouldn’t come watch early in the week either,” he said yesterday. “You crazy? They’ve got HD now.”

Ben Goessling

BY THE NUMBERS

19 Years since Braves starter Tom Glavine had an outing as short as the one he had yesterday. The last time Glavine left a game without retiring a batter was May 16, 1989, against the Chicago Cubs. The left-hander pitched to four batters, allowing a run, three hits and a walk before leaving with a strained right hamstring.

TOMORROW’S GAME

Nationals LHP Odalis Perez Record, ERA: 0-2, 4.91

Mets RHP Mike Pelfrey Record, ERA: 1-0, 3.60

Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: MASN

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