- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

The sight of a placid Jim Riggleman, sitting at a podium and picking apart what the Washington Nationals did wrong in their sixth straight win Friday night, was almost surreal.

Here was a team that, three months ago, blew games in every manner imaginable. Certainly, there were nights like Friday, when the Nationals’ offense punched its way back into a game only to see the bullpen make the job a little harder.

Yet after another comeback victory Friday night, in which the Nationals came back from a five-run deficit to prevail 7-6 against the Arizona Diamondbacks and stretch their win streak to a season-long six games, Riggleman was pining for a more sustainable way to win.

“I can’t say I’m surprised, because I know we have the offensive capabilities to do that,” the interim manager said. “But I also know that’s not a good formula for winning. That’s not how you want to win ballgames. You want to be able to do that, so it’s nice that it happens now and then, but you’re never going to draw it up that way.”

Certainly not. But for the Nationals to be able to sit back and turn their nose up at things that happened in a victory, that has to count for something.

Despite falling into an early hole for the second straight game - this one constructed by Collin Balester a day after Craig Stammen put Washington down 6-0 - the Nationals stormed back for another win, running their record to 12-11 under Riggleman, including 12-6 in their past 18 games.

They also knocked off another team on a five-game win streak Friday night, making yet another case that they can finish the season playing at least respectable baseball.

“We’re the same team. We’re the same guys,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth inning. “I think we’re just getting hits when we need to.”

Balester was never sharp in his fourth major league start of the year, lucking into flyball outs on pitches that could have brought grislier outcomes. Still, the right-hander allowed just one runner in the first, third and fourth innings. Balester’s second inning, though, got him into enough trouble to put the Nationals in another early hole and send their bullpen scrambling into action.

In Washington’s past two trips through the rotation, only John Lannan has posted a start of six innings or longer, and he has done it twice. The rest of the Nationals’ starters - Stammen, Balester, Garrett Mock and J.D. Martin - have put together a litany of short outings, overworking the bullpen to the point that the Nationals had to call up Saul Rivera on Thursday so they could get to Monday’s off-day with an eight-man relief corps.

Facing red-hot slugger Mark Reynolds to start the second, Balester missed with a fastball high and inside, and Reynolds pulled it out of the park for his 34th homer. He effectively repeated the procedure every third batter for the rest of the inning, floating a change-up to Josh Whitesell and then a fastball to Stephen Drew. Both pitches were blasted out of the park, and the Diamondbacks led 5-0.

Balester was gone by the middle of the fifth, having given up a walk and a hit to the first three batters of the inning. But the Nationals’ cobbled-together bullpen somehow held once again.

By the time the group gave up a run - on a Drew sacrifice fly against Mike MacDougal in the eighth - the Diamondbacks had been held scoreless long enough that the Nationals’ offense could pick itself up.

A day after winning despite the hole Stammen put them in, the Nationals rallied for five runs between the second and the fifth, tying the score on Zimmerman’s fourth homer in as many days. The third baseman belted a solo shot to center in the fifth inning off Diamondbacks starter Jon Garland, giving him 24 homers for the year and tying his career high with 52 games to play.

The two runs they scored to go ahead for good in the seventh came almost by happenstance. Nyjer Morgan dropped in a one-out bunt single, and Cristian Guzman singled up the middle, moving Morgan to third. That’s where the runners were with two outs when Guzman took second base uncontested with Adam Dunn at the plate.

Riggleman had frantically been trying to get Guzman’s attention, telling him not to take second for fear the Diamondbacks would walk Dunn - which they did when the shortstop couldn’t hear Riggleman over the crowd noise and broke for second anyway.

But everything worked out with the bases loaded. Josh Willingham singled to left, scoring two runs and giving Washington a 7-5 lead. It held up despite MacDougal needing to earn a five-out save, ending in a win lacking in aesthetics but brimming with verve.

“Early in the year,” Willingham said, “we probably don’t come back and win those games.”

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