THE RESULT:  After his last start, Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan made a semi-veiled comment about getting pulled from the game earlier than he thought appropriate.  On Sunday afternoon, Lannan made sure that he maximized every pitch he made, and came up with an outstanding effort on a sunny, hot afternoon.

Lannan went a very strong 7 2/3 innings, leading the Nats to a 4-2 win over the suddenly struggling St. Louis Cardinals, before 24,782 fans on "Pups in the Park" day at Nationals Park.  It was Lannan's longest start since an eight inning game Aug. 28, 2009.

The win lifts the Nats record to 56-75 and the loss drops the Cardinals five games behind N.L. Central leading Cincinnati.

The 25-year old lefty, two time Opening Day starter even helped himself with the bat, dropping a hit in front of left fielder Matt Holliday that squirted past the outfielder for a two-run double.

Since being recalled from Double-A Harrisburg, Lannan is 4-1 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts.

Lannan (6-6) gave up just one earned run on eight hits before getting lifted with two outs in the eighth for closer Drew Storen.  Manager Jim Riggleman called upon his young closer to face the right-handed hitting Albert Pujols, though Lannan had struck out the All-World slugger his last at bat.

Storen made sure Pujols would not play hero, as the rookie got him to chase a slider in the dirt for strike three, stranding a runner in the process.

Things did get interesting in the ninth for Storen though.  His first pitch of the inning went behind Holliday, raising the ire of the powerful slugger, who took a few steps toward the mound.  Catcher Wil Nieves stepped in front of Holliday and defused the situation, but Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa came out to argue the situation with home plate umpire Rob Drake.

And of course, crew chief "Country" Joe West had to involve himself in the discussion.  Both benches were warned after the play, and there was no further escalation of tempers.

The excitement had a backdrop of Saturday night's extra-curricular activities, when Nyjer Morgan went out of his way to initiate contact with Cardinals back-up catcher Bryan Anderson.  After Sunday's game, Riggleman told reporters that he had a pre-game meeting with West and LaRussa to discuss the incident and the ramifications for retaliation in Sunday's game.

When play resumed, Storen was able to get Holliday to ground out, but Pedro Feliz ran into a fastball and deposited it into the Cards bullpen to cut the lead to 4-2.  Storen recovered though and punched out Jon Jay and Colby Rasmus to end the game, earning his third save of the season.

The Nats received offensive support from Michael Morse, who went 2-for-4 with a two run home run and Adam Dunn, who went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

THE GOOD:  Lannan.  The Nationals really need a stabilizing force in the rotation right now, and Lannan is trying to play the part.  The biggest part of his turn-around is keeping runners off base from walks, something he had a lot of trouble with before his exile to the minors.

THE BAD:  Ryan Zimmerman went 0-for-4.  That the Nats could find enough offense to win with their leader having a bad day is a good thing.

THE UGLY:  Willie Harris.  Another 0-for-4 day, and his average plummits to .183.

THE STATS:  9 Ks, 3 BBs, 1-for-6 with RISP, 6 LOB, 2 DPs, 1 DP hit into.

NEXT GAME:  Washington starts a seven-day, six-game road trip to Florida and Pittsburgh with a game Monday in Miami.  Jason Marquis (0-7, 8.79) takes on Alex Sanabia (3-1, 3.62) at 7:10 pm from Sun Life Stadium.

NATS NOTES:  After the game, the team announced they re-signed Livan Hernandez to a contract for the 2011 season.  No terms were released.  The 35-year old veteran is 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 27 starts for the Nationals this season.