- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Had the Washington Nationals closed up shop and shut down for the night after one inning Thursday, no one would have batted an eyelash.

The worst team in the major leagues was already trailing the best team in the major leagues by six runs, and looking quite inept in the process. Chalk up another loss for Washington, another home win for the Manny Ramirez-less Los Angeles Dodgers and head home for the night.

Say this about the Nationals: They never gave in, never wilted. And because of it, they emerged with the kind of come-from-behind victory that can change an entire clubs fortunes.

With a stunning series of rallies against the Los Angeles bullpen, the Nationals pulled off an 11-9 win that defied common sense.

Down 6-0 and well on its way to an 11th straight loss at Chavez Ravine, Washington scored once in the sixth, three times in the seventh and then six more times in the eighth to seize control of a ballgame that seemed lost. It was the franchises biggest comeback since it rallied from seven runs down to beat the New York Yankees on June 17, 2006 at RFK Stadium.

Our offense is good enough to where we never feel like were out of a game, said Adam Dunn, whose two clutch hits helped complete the onslaught. Six runs? Well take our chances.

There was no shortage of heroes in this one, from Dunn to Josh Willingham (whose solo homer jumpstarted the rally) to Austin Kearns (whose two-run double tied the game) to Nick Johnson (whose two-run double gave the Nationals the lead).

And don’t forget the trio of veteran relievers Manny Acta called upon to close this one out. Ron Villone, who arrived from Class AAA Syracuse after the game began, pitched a scoreless seventh and wound up getting credited with the win. Joe Beimel escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth by retiring Juan Pierre on his 40th pitch of the inning.

I earned my money tonight, Beimel said.

And Kip Wells, despite allowing two runs to score in the ninth and the winning run to come to the plate, avoided the kind of catastrophe that has plagued this bullpen all season.

But the man who perhaps made this possible more than anyone else was the man who put the Nationals in such a huge hole to begin the evening. Jordan Zimmermann didn’t earn the win, but he certainly deserved a piece of the credit after battling back from a six-run first inning to hold Los Angeles scoreless for the next five frames.

It was special what he did today, Acta said. The fact that he went out there after that and gave us five shutout innings, it just says a lot about this kid.

The Dodgers jumped all over Zimmermann in the bottom of the first, with six straight batters reaching base and all of them scoring, thanks in large part to two mistakes.

The first gaffe: A high fastball out over the plate by Zimmermann, which Matt Kemp promptly drilled into the right-field bleachers for a grand slam. As the crowd of 37,074 roared with delight, forgetting for that moment how much it will miss its long-locked slugger for the next two months, Zimmermann stood on the mound in disgust realizing his fourth career start already was not going well.

The second mistake: Moments after Kemp had circled the bases, teammate Casey Blake lofted a high fly ball to right-center, an easy out. Until Dunn and Elijah Dukes stopped short of each other and watched as the ball landed between their feet for an eventual triple.

By the time the inning was over, six runs had scored and Zimmermanns pitching line looked like a mess.

Slowly but surely, though, the rookie hurler battled his way back. There was no way to wipe those six runs off the scoreboard, but if nothing else, he could keep the Dodgers from adding any more to the tally.

That was probably one of my rougher innings Ive ever had, the 22-year-old said. Ive never really had anything like that. I just had to tell myself its a 0-0 ballgame.

By the time Zimmermann departed for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh, that pitching line didnt look nearly as bad. Over his final five innings, he allowed just two hits and a walk and threw only 61 pitches.

Still, the Nationals trailed by six runs, with little reason to believe they had a late rally in them.

With one big swing from Willingham, though, life was renewed in the visiting dugout. Willinghams solo homer in the sixth off Randy Wolf finally put Washington on the board and knocked the Los Angeles starter out of the game.

The Nationals seized the opportunity to play catch-up against the Dodgers bullpen, scoring three more runs in the seventh off Ramon Troncoso and Will Ohman. Suddenly, it was a two-run game and anything seemed possible.

And when Washington sent a parade of 11 batters to the plate in the eighth, with eight of the first nine reaching base safely, this stunning comeback was complete and a downtrodden ballclub finally got to enjoy the sweet taste of victory.

These guys had something special going on over here, and we were able to stop that winning streak, Acta said. I think that counts for a lot, especially after we were already trailing 6-0. Its a huge comeback, and its a very good win for us.

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