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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nationals, Flores Slam Padres

San Diego, CA--Jesus Flores hit his first major league grand slam, Lastings Milledge added a solo shot, and Odalis Perez had another quality start as the Washington Nationals hung on to defeat the San Diego Padres 6-4 Wednesday night.

Perez, pitching just hours after receiving an emergency root canal in the morning, was not perfect, but certainly good enough to keep the light-hitting Padres at bay long enough to allow Flores and Milledge to play hero with their big blasts. Perez (W, 2-4, 4.14) went six and one-third innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks. He struck out four and did not allow a home run. "It was tough," he said. "I couldn't sleep (Tuesday night). It was painful. I wasn't sure if I was going to pitch."

Perez was the inspirational leader for the team playing through pain, but Flores delivered the big blow when it counted. In the fourth inning, against Padres starter Shawn Estes (L, 1-1, 3.33), Aaron Boone reached on a single, Dmitri Young walked and Milledge was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for the young catcher, pressed into duty with injuries to veterans Paul LoDuca and Johnny Estrada. Flores was down in the count with one ball and two strikes, when Estes didn't locate a fastball, and Flores deposited it in the left center field grandstand, clearing the bases and giving the Nationals a 4-0 lead. Flores went 2-for-4 on the night with four RBIs, raising his season average to .344, best on the team. It was his second home run of the season.

The Padres scored in the bottom of the fifth when second baseman Tadahito Iguchi singled in outfielder Jody Gerut, but the Nats--specifically Milledge--would answer back in the top of the sixth. Milledge got behind reliever Mike Adams 1-2 just as Flores did with Estes, and Adams couldn't find the kill shot either. Instead, Milledge was the one with the dagger, as he blasted a shot to the middle deck of the mining company building beyond the left field fence, a tremendous blast that Milledge perhaps admired for just a fraction of a second before leaving home plate to round the bases for his third homer of the year.

Washington added an insurance run in the seventh. Felipe Lopez (2-for-4), battling a two-week slump, doubled to center and Cristian Guzman (3-for-5, .308) singled, moving Lopez to third. Aaron Boone, again starting for Ryan Zimmerman, hit a sacrifice fly to left to plate Lopez and give the Nats a cushion they almost needed.

In the bottom of the inning, rookie Luke Carlin doubled off Perez, and veteran Tony Clark followed with a double of his own, plating Carlin and ending Perez' evening. Brian Sanches relieved Perez, and promptly allowed a two-run shot to lead-off hitter Scott Hairston, his seventh of the season, followed by a single by Iguchi. Not wanting things to get out of hand, Manager Manny Acta went to the bullpen again. Luis Ayala entered and cleaned up the mess to escape without any further damage. Ayala pitching one and two-third perfect ball, and Jon Rauch earned his eleventh save, striking out two in the ninth inning.

The three-game series wraps up Thursday afternoon at 3:35 EDT, with John Lannan (4-5, 3.57) facing Wil Ledezma (0-2, 4.65).

NATS NOTES: The win moves the Nats season record to 23-31, eight games behind Florida in the NL East.

Ryan Zimmerman missed his third straight contest, nursing his sore left shoulder. He is still listed as day-to-day, but is hopeful to play in the weekend series against Arizona.

Catcher Paul LoDuca, on the DL with a broken right hand, provided color commentary in the MASN TV booth, filling in for Don Sutton, who has been battling a case of laryngitis this week.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

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