Nats Play Long Ball With Pirates, Win 7-6

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

Pittsburgh, PA--The Washington Nationals were down to their last out, twice. Trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in the ninth inning after some back-and-forth home run hitting, Elijah Dukes kept hopes alive with a double to center off of Bucs' closer Matt Capps, who had been perfect in save opportunities all season. Lastings Milledge then came to plate, and drove a shot to the left center field seats against Capps, leaving it up to Jon Rauch to close the door, and he did. Just like that, the Nats had ended their four-game losing streak emphatically.

There were seven home runs in the game -- five by the Nats. The Nats had not hit five home runs in the past week. But Milledge, Dmitri Young, Jesus Flores and Ronnie Belliard -- twice -- all provided big flies to pace the Nationals here on the shores of the Allegheny.

The Nats got started late in this one, as Pittsburgh took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first against Nats starter Tim Redding. Freddy Sanchez grounded to short, scoring Nate McLouth, who had doubled and taken third on Redding's throwing error on a pick-off play. Two batters later, Ryan Doumit hit his first of two homers on the evening, driving in Jason Bay, on base via an infield single. Redding allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings, walking one and striking out three.

Belliard, in his first game back off the 15-day disabled list with a strained calf, started the comeback in the fifth, homering to left center off Pirates starter Paul Maholm. Doumit would answer for the Bucs in the sixth with his second shot of the night, his tenth of the season. But in the seventh inning -- the bane of the team all season long -- the Nats would find a power boost that has been absent all season long.

Dmitri Young led off -- on the first pitch of the frame -- with his second home run of the season. With one out, Jesus Flores popped his third. The next batter, Ronnie Belliard, hit a 3-2 pitch to deep left center, and in the span of four batters the Nats had three runs, drawing the score into a tie at four, all against Maholm. Maholm gave up four runs and ten hits with no walks and four strikeouts in six and two-third innings.

Belliard would break the tie in the eighth, as his single to center scored Willie Harris, who had entered as a pinch-runner for Young, who singled with one out. Harris stole second off reliever John Grabow before Flores walked, and Belliard fought two fouls off Franquelis Osoria before finding one to his liking, lining his single to center plating Harris.

However, the good fortune from the bats would not extend to the relief pitching in the eighth. Luis Ayala failed to retire any of the three batters he faced, allowing a walk, double and single for one run. Charlie Manning managed to strike out Adam LaRoche with a runner at third, but Joel Hanrahan was not as effective, allowing a sacrifice fly to Doug Mientkiewicz, and the Pirates had stolen the lead from Washington, setting the stage for the ninth inning heroics.

Despite allowing the go-head run to score, Hanrahan was awarded the victory, raising his season record to 2-2, with a 4.24 ERA. Jon Rauch earned his thirteenth save, pitching a perfect ninth inning. Capps was the loser (0-1, 2.64).

Wednesday night is game two between these two second division teams. John Lannan (4-6, 3.47) takes on Ian Snell (2-6, 5.65) in a 7:05 pm game at PNC Park.

NATS NOTES: The win lifts the Nats record to 26-40, 13 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.

Cristian Guzman, Dukes, Milledge, Young and Belliard all had multi-hit games. Guzman is hitting .310 for the season.

Tyler Clippard, Monday's starter, was returned to Columbus to make room for Belliard.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008