- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

When Manny Acta emerged from his dugout perch and strolled to the mound in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon, boos began circulating around Nationals Park, with many among the crowd of 22,677 upset that the manager was about to pull starter Scott Olsen from the game.

By the time Acta reached the mound, those fans were on their feet, beginning to give Olsen a standing ovation for a job well done.

Turns out those fans - just like the ballpark fireworks guy - were a bit premature in showing their appreciation.

Acta didn’t go to the mound to take Olsen out. Rather, he went there to let the left-hander know he was staying in the game, a move that elicited an even louder roar from the crowd.

Though Olsen didn’t make it all the way through for his first complete game, he did more than his fair share to lead Washington to a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. And by the time the 25-year-old exited for good with two outs in the ninth, he was greeted with his third standing ovation in a span of about 20 minutes.

“I’m just glad I didn’t blow it for them,” he said.

Olsen and closer Mike MacDougal did nearly throw it all away, threatening to lose a comfortable 5-1 lead after Atlanta put the tying runner on base in the ninth. But it was all good in the end. Olsen got his second straight win since coming back from a shoulder injury. MacDougal got his fifth save in as many tries since becoming the closer. And the Nationals got a rare series victory, taking the last two from the Braves behind stellar starts from Olsen and John Lannan.

“Man, both of those boys, they threw good,” said center fielder Nyjer Morgan, who played a big role in Sunday’s win with three hits and a couple of highlight-reel plays in the field. “They kept us in the game, and that’s all you can ask for.”

On the heels of Lannan’s eight-inning outing Saturday, Olsen one-upped his rotation mate, allowing three runs in 8 2/3 innings to improve to 2-4 (2-0 since coming off the disabled list). It’s the first time that back-to-back Washington starters have gone at least eight innings since Esteban Loaiza and Livan Hernandez did it Sept. 4-5, 2005.

“It comes down to having enough courage to throw the ball over the plate early in the count and trust that they’re going to hit it at somebody,” catcher Josh Bard said. “I think our pitchers are doing a good job of that.”

His left shoulder finally feeling strong after nagging him much of April, Olsen threw with increased velocity and command. Through six innings, he allowed only one run and three hits, keeping his pitch count to a mere 68.

Olsen glanced at the scoreboard at one point, saw his pitch total and thought he had a chance to go the distance for the first time in his career. But when he loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth and saw Acta heading his way? “I thought I was done,” he said.

Imagine Olsen’s surprise when the first words out of the manager’s mouth indicated he was staying in the game.

“Tell all these people to save their applause because you’re staying in here,” Acta told the lefty, who was sitting on 98 pitches at the time. “You got into this. You’re going to get out.”

Sure enough, Olsen struck out Garrett Anderson to end the inning. And though he came one out short of the complete game - a two-run homer by Nate McLouth forced his removal - he departed to another standing ovation and then watched as MacDougal wriggled his way out of one last jam.

Someone standing on the stadium roof thought the flame-throwing closer had ended the game on a 3-2 fastball to Chipper Jones, who barely fouled the pitch off before fireworks started exploding.

“We’ve got to win a little more for them to get some practice,” Bard said.

By the time MacDougal got Brian McCann to ground out to end the game three pitches later, there were no pyrotechnics. A round of high-fives and another standing ovation were enough to celebrate this moment.

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