Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Surprise! The Nationals Are On a Roll! -- The Nats got an unexpected win tonight, against the Atlanta Braves. With Shawn Hill out, the Nats started reliever Levale Speigner. The timing was propitious for the Nats, as they faced the Braves' weakest link, Kyle Davies. In the early going, Davies was better than Speigner. The Nats' emergency starter didn't pitch badly, but he was hit fairly hard in both the first and fourth innings. Speigner surrendered a pair of runs in each of those innings. Though Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI double, and added his first solo home run, Davies cruised through the rest of the Nats' batting order, until the fifth inning.

The Nats took advantage of a rare Braves' error to put together their best rally of the season. With runners on first and second, it seemed that Cristian Guzman had grounded out into an inning-ending double play. Kelly Johnson, the Braves' second baseman, tried to hurry the play and dropped the ball, literally. That kept the inning alive, and set the stage for a serious rally. Ronnie Belliard hit a ground ball also, but he avoided a double play when he beat the throw to first base. Ryan Langerhans scored on the play, bringing the Nats within a run. Ryan Zimmerman worked out a walk to load the bases, and it fell to Ryan Church to deliver the clutch hit. Church has not been a great hitter in situations like this, and he has been in a slump besides. Church, however, came through with a huge, bases-clearing double.

After that, it was on the Nats' bullpen to close out the Braves over the final four innings. The Nats' relievers performed brilliantly, including Chad Cordero, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Billy Traber got the win, with a strong fifth inning, before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Jon Rauch earned a save, with a dominating ninth inning. Including Speigner, the Nats used seven pitchers out of their bullpen. They'll want some innings out of tomorrow afternoon's starter, Matt Chico, but the combination worked tonight. The Nats have won 5 of 6 games on this homestand, and can register a surprising series win over division-leading Atlanta, with a win tomorrow.

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