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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Homers In Seventh Do In Nats

San Diego, CA--Adrian Gonzales and Kevin Kouzmanoff hit back-to-back solo home runs off two Washington Nationals relievers in the seventh inning to turn a tie game into a 4-2 victory before 18,774 at Petco Park in San Diego Tuesday night.

With two outs in the frame, Gonzales hit his fifteenth of the season on a 0-1 count with two outs from just promoted rookie Charlie Manning (L, 0-1, 7.71). Manning had successfully struck out Padres second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and got right fielder Brian Giles to ground out to short. But Gonzales made no mistake on the one-strike fastball, depositing it over the left-center field fence, taking a lead the Padres would not relinquish. Left fielder Wily Mo Pena tried to make a leaping catch at the wall, but came up empty. "I tried to get the ball in on him and the ball stayed up in the zone," Manning said. "I made a mistake and paid for it." It was Gonzales' fourth home run in his last six games.

Manager Manny Acta then pulled Manning in favor of Joel Hanrahan, who has been in command much better of late, but Kouzmanoff took the first pitch he saw from Hanrahan to almost the same spot in left-center that Gonzales hit moments before. Hanrahan got out of the inning and pitched the eighth as well. He went one and one-third innings, allowing just the one earned run on two hits and no walks, striking out three in the process.

It was a tightwalk all night for the Nats, as starter Shawn Hill was without his best stuff all night. He surrendered only two earned runs on five hits in five innings with five strikeouts. But he also walked five Padres, giving them plenty of base runners all evening. San Diego managed to cash in on Hill's mistakes in the third inning, as he walked Gonzales, Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene in succession, then gave up a single to catcher Michael Barrett (1-for-4, .188) on a 3-2 count with two outs.

The Nationals' pair of runs came in the first inning, as Aaron Boone -- filling in again for sore-shouldered Ryan Zimmerman -- homered against Padres starter Randy Wolf, driving in Cristian Guzman (2-for-4, .301), who had doubled the previous at bat. It was Boone's fifth home run of the season, tying him with Guzman and Nick Johnson for second on the team, behind Zimmerman's team leading eight. Although the Nats reached Wolf for seven hits, they could not push another run across the plate. Heath Bell (W, 1-3, 2.45) pitched a perfect one and one-third innings for the win and Trevor Hoffman added to his all-time lead in saves with his tenth of the season.

Game two of the three-game series is Wednesday night in San Diego, with Odalis Perez (1-4, 4.13) matching up with Shawn Estes (1-0, 2.33) at 10:05 EDT. Estes, 35, is making a comeback after missing most of 2006 and all of 2007 with injuries. He has started three games for the Padres and has yet to allow more than two earned runs.

NATS NOTES: The loss puts Washington's record at 22-31, nine games behind division-leading Florida.

Manager Manny Acta said Zimmerman (sore left shoulder) was available for pinch-hitting in the game. It was Zimmerman's second consecutive day off.

Hill pitched on eleven days rest, missing one start, during which he received a cortisone shot for the pain in his elbow. He's been unable to throw between starts as he is accustomed to, and after the game theorized that perhaps that's where the lack of command may be coming from. He threw 82 pitches, only 38 for strikes.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008

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