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Friday, June 6, 2008

Dukes' OT Blast Leads Nats Past Cards 10-9

Washington, DC--You could say Elijah Dukes was due for a breakout game. He entered play in the second half of Thursday's day/night double-header hitting .153 and slugging a paltry .190. But he feasted on the offerings of several Cardinals pitchers to the tune of a 4-for-6 day, punctuated by a two-run walk-off shot to dead center field in the bottom of the tenth inning -- his first home run of the season -- to lead the Washington Nationals to victory over the St. Louis Cardinals 10-9. Dukes added a triple and two singles, with a total of four RBIs in the nightcap, as the Nats as a team busted loose for sixteen hits in the game.

Washington entered the bottom of the tenth down 9-8, thanks to Joe Mather's first career home run for St. Louis. Mather went 2-for-4 on the night, raising his average to .280 since his promotion over the weekend. The solo shot came on a ten-pitch at bat with two outs in the inning against Brain Sanches (2-0, 3.60), who was awarded the victory regardless. Sanches was the Nats' sixth pitcher of the game.

Cristian Guzman (4-for-6, 3 runs) led of the tenth with a single up the middle, and after several pick-off attempts to first by Cards closer Ryan Franklin (L, 2-2, 2.63), Dukes worked the count to 2-2. That's when Dukes found the pitch he's been looking to punish all season, and he would not be cheated on this occasion. The ball exploded off his bat to dead center field, and after two steps he emphatically gestured back to the Nats dug out, complete with the knowledge that he would clear the 404' mark easily to clear the bases and deliver the Nats a much needed win.

This game had more twists and turns than the George Washington Parkway. Washington would jump all over Cardinals starter Mike Parisi in the early going, surrender a big lead, see the game tied against it's shut-down closer, lose the lead in extra innings, and eventually pull off the dramatic win.

The Nats scored twice in the first inning, three times in the second, twice more in the third and once in the fourth. Guzman got the party started by leading off the game with a single to right field, and Dukes promptly hit his triple, bringing in Guzman. One out later, Aaron Boone (3-for-4, 2 RBIs) lofted a fly ball to center that was deep enough to allow Dukes to trot home with the second run. Parisi found himself in more hot water with two outs, as Kory Casto (3-for-4, 2 RBIs) singled and Felipe Lopez and Ryan Langerans walked -- all with two outs -- but escaped further first inning damage as he coaxed catcher Wil Nieves into a ground out to second.

The Nats would rally in the second inning with two outs though. Dukes reached on a two-out error by Cards center fielder Skip Schumaker, and took second when Lastings Milledge walked behind him. Aaron Boone followed with a single, scoring Dukes, and Casto doubled to the gap in right, scoring both Milledge and Boone. In the third, Nieves singled with one out, and took second on pitcher Tim Redding's sacrifice. Guzman doubled Nieves home, and Dukes followed with a single to drive in Guzman. Just like that, the Nats were in charge with a 7-0 lead.

But nothing comes easy for the Nats right now, and the Cards would start to make a game on if in the fourth. Troy Glaus hit a solo shot off Redding (no decision, 5.2 IP, 6 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 HRs) and Parisi helped himself out with a two-run double, scoring Mather and Jason LaRue, cutting the lead to 7-3. The Nats answered with another run in the bottom of the fourth, as Boone doubled, Lopez walked and Langerhans singled to center, scoring Boone.

It was the sixth inning when things started getting weird and ominous for the Nats. With two on and two outs and down 8-3, Cards skipper Tony LaRussa allowed his rookie relief pitcher Mark Worrell to bat. Worrell, 25, was called up this past Sunday, and had appeared in just two games. It's quite likely he had not even taken batting practice with the team. But none of it mattered, as Tim Redding's last pitch of the game would be a grooved fastball that Worrell clubbed to the left field bleachers for his first hit as a major leaguer -- a three-run home run -- to cut the Nats lead to 8-6.

Things then got quiet for a couple of innings until the bottom of the ninth, when closer Jon Rauch entered to try to save the game. He made quick work of catcher LaRue, who grounded out on one pitch. The next batter, Brendan Ryan doubled to deep center and the Nats faithful now started holding their collective breath. Albert Pujols, nursing a strained calf muscle, pinch-hit for shortstop Cesar Izturis, but Rauch got the better of him on this night, striking the bulky slugger out on a mix of sliders and fastballs. The Cardinals would be undaunted though, as Schumaker tripled on the next pitch, scoring Ryan, and second baseman Aaron Miles reached on a ball that ticked off the glove of Guzman, and the game would be tied forcing overtime -- setting up the drama of the tenth inning.

The Nats look to start a winning streak Friday night against San Francisco, as Jason Bergmann (1-2, 4.50) hosts Tim Lincecum (7-1, 2.23) and the Giants.

NATS NOTES: With the double-header split, the Nats record stands at 25-36, 10.5 behind Philadelphia in the NL East.

The win in the nightcap snapped a four-game losing streak.

Rauch had retired 19 consecutive batters before the double to Ryan.

Attendance was 32,357.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

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