- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Each one of Jayson Werth’s movements early Tuesday night was booed resoundingly by the Philadelphia Phillies fans who made up most of the meager crowd on a rainy evening at Nationals Park.

That three of the first six Philadelphia batters hit fly balls to right field for Werth to make the put-outs on didn’t help as the boos continued to rain down on him with each squeeze of the glove.

There were fewer taunts, though, when Werth laced a double to left field to lead off the fourth inning, and they all but disappeared when the Nationals’ prized offseason acquisition snuck a laser around the left field foul pole and into the seats for a solo home run that, at the time, gave the Nationals a four-run lead in an eventual 7-4 victory over the Phillies.

“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Werth said of the reception. “I’ve seen it plenty of times.”

“Once the game starts, you kind of zone out all the external stuff,” he added. “It is what it is right now. … I went to Philly and we’d play the Mets and there was a lot of Mets fans. I don’t think there’s too many Mets fans left. We play the Phillies; there are a lot of Phillies fans. We start winning, change things around here, that’ll go away.”

The Nationals took their first step toward doing that Tuesday night. Missing their regular third baseman, first baseman and left fielder, the Nationals ran out a lineup that wouldn’t exactly strike fear into an opposing pitcher’s heart.

But Washington didn’t need fear to topple Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton in the first game of the season between the two National League East rivals.

“It’s one game, but I was really pleased with the way we played in general,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “But we’ve got a long way to go before we close that gap. One game is not what we’re talking about.”

Regardless of the way things ended in past years, though, the Nationals were the ones with the edge Tuesday night. They tagged Blanton for five runs off seven hits and a walk, capitalizing on what may be their one chance to jump on a Philadelphia pitcher all series, with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee set to face the Nationals the next two nights.

After Ryan Howard’s solo home run put the Nationals in an early hole, they began to chip away at perhaps the only pitcher on the Phillies staff who wouldn’t slide onto another team and be the unquestioned ace.

While Werth’s homer was perhaps the final chink in Blanton’s armor, the kill shot may have come the inning before when the Nationals put up three runs, the third coming on a bases-loaded squeeze bunt by pitcher Livan Hernandez.

After the Nationals picked up an RBI double from Wilson Ramos and an RBI single by Jerry Hairston Jr. — his first hit of the season — Hernandez dropped a perfectly placed bunt down the first-base side while Laynce Nix sped home to give the Nationals what was then a 4-1 lead.

It was the third squeeze bunt the Nationals have employed already this season, an encouraging sign after bunting was not one of the team’s strong suits in 2010.

Hernandez, who bunted on his own on the first pitch, guessed that Blanton would be crazy to throw him a fastball with the bases loaded and was expecting the change-up he put down for the bunt. On top of finishing the night after 6 2/3 innings of work and having allowed just one earned run on the solo homer, Hernandez came through at the plate — and then apologized to Nix for the nature of the play that forced him to turn on the high-speed jets in order to beat out a force play at home.

“Last year, personally I had a difficult time. Last year I missed five bunts in a row. That’d never happened to me in my career,” Hernandez said. “(Tuesday night) I think the guy is going to throw to home plate. I said, ‘Uh oh’ … I said, ‘I’m sorry’ to Nix because I did it on my own, and it surprised a lot of people, but it came out perfect. He was running hard. He said: ‘It’s OK, it’s OK. Great bunt.’”

The Nationals’ bullpen then sealed things off with 3 1/3 innings of relief that, while not scoreless, was effective enough for Washington to come away with the win and pull to .500 on the season.

Philadelphia still will be atop the National League East when the Nationals arrive at the ballpark Wednesday afternoon. They’ll still be the so-called gold standard in the division and the league for the Nationals to compare themselves with, and winning one game against them doesn’t change that dramatically, but it’s a step in the right direction if nothing else.

“(Winning) is the only way we’re going to do it,” Werth said. “We’re not going to do it by doing commercials and appearances and charity work. That’s not going to get it done. The only way to change the culture here in Washington, D.C., is to win. That was a big win tonight, but we’ve got to continue to do it. Essentially we’re going to have to win a lot, not just play .500 ball or not finish in last place. We have to win a division or win a wild card. That takes work.

“It’s hard work, but we’ve got the group that I believe can do it if we start adding some pieces here and there.”

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