- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

During the first five innings Wednesday night, Danny Espinosa sent a rocket home run to right field and Ryan Zimmerman did the same to left. The Washington Nationals’ first four runs came out of their No. 2 and 3 hitters via the home run.

That alone makes the circumstances behind their fifth run all the more improbable. Factor in Wilson Ramos missing the suicide squeeze sign the first time and nearly decapitating Michael Morse, who was charging for home, with a foul ball and it becomes downright unfathomable.

The Nationals, stewarded by a manager who said he’d never called one in his 14-plus years, beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4 on a suicide squeeze bunt by their catcher in the seventh inning.

“I must be brain dead,” manager Davey Johnson joked. “I don’t think I’ve ever squeezed. I don’t even really like to bunt that much.”

Ramos’ missed sign may have worked in the Nationals’ favor. Once Ramos saw Morse charging, his only thought was to foul off Kerry Wood’s pitch. He did, and luckily didn’t bean his first baseman in the process. Johnson immediately took the sign off for the second pitch, perhaps relaxing the Cubs infielders. But third base coach Bo Porter pulled his catcher aside for a conference and told him the bunt would be back on soon.

Two pitches later, Ramos dropped down a high bouncer toward the pitcher, and Morse came in easily to give the Nationals their 10th straight victory by one run or in extra innings and their 18th one-run win of the season.

“When [Porter] told me, ‘Hey we’re bunting again,’ I was waiting for that,” Ramos said. “After he scored, [Morse] said, ‘You’re good, you’re good,’ but I almost killed him.”

“When he put it on I was surprised, just probably how [the Cubs] were and why not put it on again?” Morse said, admitting the team avoided a scary situation the first time. “They probably never thought in a million years he’d put it on again. That’s the way Davey works.

“He put it on again and I was like, ‘Stay cool, Mike, stay cool. Poker face.’ But we caught them by surprise, and it was great.”

With Morse at third base and Ramos batting, the Nationals didn’t exactly have their speediest runners on the field. Ramos had laid down one sacrifice bunt in his major league career before coming to the plate with the Nationals locked in a 4-4 tie in the seventh. Morse had stolen just two bases all season.

So why then, of all times, would Johnson call what he said was the first suicide squeeze of his career?

“You haven’t been here the last eight days that I’ve been here? You’ve got to open up the Cracker Jack box,” he said.

“It’s a good time for it,” Porter said. “You look at the situation and all the components were working to our favor. You have a guy who doesn’t run as well at the plate, you have a guy who doesn’t run too well at third base and you don’t really want to send him on contact. You look at all those components and it was just like, ‘OK, it’s a good time.’ “

The Nationals have not won a nine-inning game by more than one run since June 18 when they beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2. Jayson Werth, their $126 million right fielder, was 0-for-4 for the second straight night as his average dipped to .218. But they got home runs out of two of their biggest guns in improving to 45-43. Drew Storen did the rest in earning his 22nd save.

“Might as well get [the close games] out of the way right now,” Morse said. “I’ve said it before, it shows the character in this ballclub. We’re not giving up, and we’re finding ways to win. That’s what good ballclubs do.”

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