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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nats Rally For Another Walk-off Win

Washington, DC--Lastings Milledge homered, Elijah Dukes reached base four times and Jesus Flores broke out of a mini-slump just in time, as his line drive in the bottom of the ninth scored Dukes from second and allowed the Washington Nationals to walk-off with a win against the AL West leading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 5-4.

Flores had gone 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and five runners left on when he came to the plate with two on and no one out against Scot Shields for the Angels. He fouled the first pitch back and took the next two pitches for balls, and on the fourth pitch of the at bat finally found one he liked, drilling it to right center, splitting outfielders Torii Hunter and Rob Quinlan to deliver the comeback victory for the Nats.

The Nats got off to the early lead courtesy of Milledge. In the bottom of the first, Cristian Guzman led off with a walk, only his twelfth in over 350 plate appearances. One out later, Milledge (2-for-4) hammered an Ervin Santana offering deep to straight center field and the ball landed in the utility area beyond the deepest part of the playing field. It was Milledge's seventh home run of the season and broke an 0-for-13 skid. Santana, one of the AL's leading pitchers this season, was not particularly sharp Wednesday night allowing four earned runs total on four hits and five walks in six innings.

The Angels would scratch out single runs in the second and third innings against Nats starter Tim Redding. In the second, Hunter led off with a single, took second on a ground out and scored on Gary Matthews double to deep left field. In the third, Erick Aybar singled with one out and took second on Garrett Anderson's single. Hunter reached on an infield single to load the bases and first baseman Casey Kotchman singled to short right plating Aybar. The damage could have been worse, but with the bases loaded Howie Kendrick flied out to medium-deep right field and Anderson broke for the plate. Elijah Dukes fired a one-hop strike to catcher Jesus Flores, who cleanly applied the tag for the double play, letting Redding escape big damage in the inning.

The Nats took back the lead in the sixth. They loaded the bases against Santana with a walk to Dukes (2-for-3, 2 runs, 2 BBs), a single by Milledge and an intentional pass to Dmitri Young. Ronnie Belliard then drew a walk with the sacks full to force in a run, and Wily Mo Pena (2-for-3) snuck a ball through the right side to drive in another. But the Nats could not finish of the Angels, as Willie Harris popped out and Kory Casto struck out to end the inning.

The 4-2 lead would be short lived though. In the top of the eighth, with Luis Ayala pitching, the Angels would stage their rally. Aybar singled to start the inning and Anderson reached on defensive replacement Pete Orr's error. Kotchman doubled on a ball to the wall in right, scoring Aybar and moving Anderson to third. Ayala has given up more runs than innings pitched in three of his last six opportunities, driving his ERA up to 5.54.

Jon Rauch was summoned to try to save the game, but he let Kendrick loft a fly ball to center that brought Anderson home to tie the game. Nats fans have time and again seen the bullpen surrender leads, and tonight's game looked to be following that script. But the Nationals have also crafted several walk-off scenarios at home, and the disappointment of losing the lead would soon be replaced by the "bang-zoom" of victory fireworks.

Rauch retired the Angels in order in the ninth, and as pitcher of record earned the win (4-1, 2.29) despite the blown save. Redding (6-3, 4.05) finished with six innings pitched, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and one walk, striking out two. Redding now has seven consecutive starts without a decision. Shields (3-2, 2.53) suffered the loss for the Halos.

The Nationals have a day off Thursday to savor their win. Friday marks the beginning of part two of the "Battle of the Beltways", as the Baltimore Orioles visit Nationals Park for a three-game series to conclude interleague play. Odalis Perez (2-5, 4.09) will come of the disabled list to face Daniel Cabrera (5-3, 4.46) for the O's.

NATS NOTES: With the with, the Nats record stands at 31-49, twelve and one-half games behind division leading Philadelphia. Washington's last four victories at home have come in its last at-bat.

With an infield single in the seventh inning, Aaron Boone reached 1,000 hits for his career. He is the fourth person in his family to reach that plateau in the major leagues, following grandfather Ray (1,260), father Bob (1,838) and brother Bret (1,775).

The Nats placed RHP Shawn HIll on the 15-day DL Thursday to activate Perez for Friday's game. Hill was examined by specialists at the Mayo clinic, and for now, rest and therapy were prescribed for his painful forearm.

Photos (c) C.Nichols 2008

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