- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ryan Zimmerman has been hitting consistently since Opening Day.

The rest of the Washington Nationals? Well, they’ve had their moments, but more often than not they haven’t been able to sustain the torrid pace their young third baseman has established.

On a cold, rainy, windy Monday night, the rest of the bunch finally decided to give the face of the franchise some support. Zimmerman may have been the biggest star with his four hits, three runs and two RBI, but this 9-4 victory against the Houston Astros wouldn’t have been possible if not for the barrage of clutch hits his teammates produced during an impressive midgame rally.

“You’ve got to give the credit to Zimmerman for basically staying in there and giving us hope,” center fielder Elijah Dukes said. “He was hitting, and everybody else was like, ‘Might as well join him.’ ”

The result was one of the Nationals’ more satisfying wins of the season. Trailing 4-0 in the fifth after squandering several golden opportunities, they stormed back to score nine unanswered runs and make Zimmerman’s 4-for-4 effort all the more worthwhile.

A paying crowd of 14,115 - actual attendance was perhaps one-fourth that size - weathered tough conditions to watch the home team produce a two-game winning streak for only the second time this year and the star third baseman extend his career-high hitting streak to 22 games.

Through the first 21 games, Zimmerman had never managed more than two hits in a game. This time, he exploded for his finest performance of the season and in the process raised his batting average to .333.

“Whew, he’s a tough out right now,” manager Manny Acta said. “He’s very locked in.”

The 24-year-old made his presence known from the start Monday. The rest of his teammates waited five innings to join the party, but once they did, the results were staggering.

Stymied for four innings by right-hander Brian Moehler, Washington scored twice in the fifth on RBI singles by Dukes and Austin Kearns, forcing the Astros to turn to their bullpen.

That unit was greeted rudely in the sixth, when the Nationals sent 11 men to the plate, scored five runs and saw Adam Dunn and Dukes come through with run-scoring hits. And just for good measure, they added to the onslaught in the seventh, scoring twice more thanks to Zimmerman’s RBI double and Dukes’ RBI single - his third run-scoring hit in as many innings.

“We just had good at-bats tonight,” Zimmerman said. “I think that’s the most impressive thing. We got our hits, but we took a lot of walks. We didn’t swing at their pitches, even when they were close. It’s kind of a sense of us maturing as a team, I think.”

The beneficiary was John Lannan, who didn’t turn in his best performance but finally earned his first win thanks to some much-needed run support. Lannan - who allowed four runs, three earned, on nine hits in six innings - departed with his team trailing 4-2 in the sixth and was in line for his fourth loss in six tries. But he had the good fortune to be pinch hit for during that five-run sixth, when a 4-2 deficit morphed into a 7-4 lead and left him in line for a win.

“I’m just grateful that Manny let me go out there for the sixth,” he said. “The guys just really did it tonight. I’m glad it was a team effort and they got me off the hook.”

For that, Lannan could thank the hottest hitter in the big leagues, who is finally benefiting from some support. Zimmerman may be leading the way, but now he has four players surrounding him in the lineup - Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson, Dunn and Dukes - hitting .299 or better.

“Before,” Acta said, “everything was on his shoulders.”

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