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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dukes Carries Nats Past Rangers 4-3

Washington, DC--On a beautiful night for baseball in the Nation's Capital, Washington Nationals right fielder -- and hottest hitter --Elijah Dukes carried the squad with five hits, including a game-tying home run in the eighth inning and a game-winning single through a drawn in infield in the bottom of the fourteenth inning, defeating the Texas Rangers 4-3, the first time that franchise has returned to Washington since former owner Bob Short yanked the team out from underneath the DC faithful in 1971.

Dukes finished the night 5-for-6 with a walk, homer, two runs scored and two big RBIs. His average for the year is now .270/.377/.402,when just a couple weeks ago it was below .100. Dukes started the season 1-for-26, but has been scorching at the plate recently, giving the Nats -- and their fans -- something to cling to amidst losing streaks.

But none of that mattered in the bottom of the fourteenth inning,officially the longest game in Nationals Park short history. Tied at three, courtesy of Dukes' solo homer in the eighth, the Nats combined patience, a shaky relief pitcher (for a change, not their own), and one clutch hit to wrest the victory from the Rangers. Texas reliever Jamey Wright struck out Kory Casto (0-for-6, .184) to start the frame,but then hit Felipe Lopez with the count 1-2.

Paul LoDuca pinch-hit for Joel Hanrahan (W, 3-2, 4.47, 2 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks) and he drew a walk. Ryan Langerhans, who would be sent back down to the minors just an hour later, followed with another walk, loading the bases with one out. Cristian Guzman, the team's best overall hitter in the first half, completed an atypical lousy day at the plate striking out for the second out. Guzman finished 0-7, ending his 12 game hitting streak.

All that brought up the 'Man of the Match', Dukes. On the first pitch he saw from Wright (L, 4-3), he hit a solid ground ball through the left side of the drawn in infield, and Lopez walked home with arms raised in celebration, as the rest of the team mobbed Dukes at first in the celebratory "pig-pile."

Lost in the excitement of the dramatic win was the outstanding job done by the Nats relievers on this evening. Charlie Manning, Luis Ayala, Jon Rauch, Saul Rivera and Hanrahan combined to pitch eight innings of one-hit, one-walk baseball, not allowing a Ranger to reach second base after the sixth inning. The Nats starter, Tim Redding, was fairly good in his own right, going six innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks, striking out five on the way. Jesus Flores was responsible for the runs Dukes was not. Flores went3-for-6 overall, and had a two-run single in the third after Rangers starter Kevin Millwood issued back-to-back walks.

The Nats try for two in a row Saturday, as Garrett Mock (0-1, 8.31),just recalled from Triple-A Columbus, takes on Kason Gabbard (1-3,4.94) at 7:10 pm at Nationals Park.

NATS NOTES: The win raised Washington's record to 30-45, last in the NL East, twelve games behind Philadelphia.

Attendance on a picture perfect summer evening was 30,359.

Texas catcher Gerald Laird pulled his right hamstring while beating out a bunt single in the fourth inning and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. C Max Ramirez was recalled from Double-A Frisco.

Aaron Boone was late scratch from Washington's starting lineup because of a sore left knee, but he struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

The Nationals played a scoreboard tribute to 'Meet the Press' host and season ticket holder Tim Russert, who passed away unexpectedly last week.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

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