Correction to This Article
An article and a photo caption in the June 23 Sports section incorrectly said that Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church hit the right-field wall after catching the final out in the Nationals' 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates the day before. Church hit the left-field wall.

Church Brings Down the House

brian schneider
Brian Schneider strokes an eighth-inning single to provide the difference in the Nationals' 5-4 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon. (Jason Cohn - Reuters)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 2005

PITTSBURGH, June 22 -- The line that formed for congratulations waited at midfield for Ryan Church, who lay crumpled at the base of the right field wall, basking in the sun at PNC Park. On his right hand, he wore his black baseball glove. Nestled in his black baseball glove sat the ball, the final out of the Washington Nationals' 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that was, until that final moment when Church crashed into the wall, in doubt throughout most of Wednesday afternoon.

"Made the catch," Church said. "Got the 'W.' Let's get out of here."

Not so fast, because the Nationals just might want to savor this one on the ride home. Church's catch -- in which he twisted to snare a drive by Pirates catcher Humberto Cota, taking away a sure double -- merely delayed the celebration, one so many players had a reason to take part in.

Start with Jose Guillen, who raised his average to .303 -- the first time he has been above .300 since May 15 -- with a 4-for-5 performance that included a pair of solo home runs, the second time in three games he sent two balls out of PNC Park. That concluded a road trip on which Guillen hit .417 and crushed five homers, showing the form he displayed early in the season.

"Whatever role I've called on him to do, he's responded positively," Manager Frank Robinson said. "And today was one of those tremendous performances. We needed that lift, and he gave it to us."

The Nationals needed that lift because starter John Patterson, who wasn't sure he could pitch until late Tuesday night after receiving injections to relieve a stiff back on Monday, got off to a tremendously shaky start. He allowed a two-run homer to Jason Bay in the first, then gave up a monster shot to Rob Mackowiak, giving the Pirates the lead. When Matt Lawton hit a solo shot in the second, Pittsburgh went up 4-2, and Patterson appeared finished.

The back, a touch of illness, everything was racing through Patterson's head. Win, and the Nationals would head back to Washington 5-4, having won two of the three series. Lose, and, well, Patterson thought differently.

"After the second inning, I could've gone two ways," Patterson said. "I could've packed it in, or I could've battled. I decided to battle."

That he did, a characteristic he hasn't always been able to display. "I'm learning a lot about myself," he said. He retired 13 of the next 14 Pirates, allowing the Nationals to scratch back into it, getting within one run on Guillen's second homer in the third, then tying the score in the fifth on a botched pickoff by the Pirates, one in which Guillen did a masterful job of getting caught up in a rundown just long enough to allow Jamey Carroll to scoot home from third with the tying run.

"He's a smart kid," Guillen said of Carroll.

With the game tied, Patterson came out for the sixth, and a single, a bunt and a walk put runners on first and second. Lawton followed with a single to shallow center, and Robinson called to the bullpen for Hector Carrasco, the 36-year-old journeyman from the Dominican Republic.

"In that situation, I just come in thinking, 'Throw strikes,' " Carrasco said.

Carrasco got Tike Redman to bounce a grounder to first, and Nick Johnson threw home for the force play. Two outs. Then, Bay, the Pirates' most dangerous hitter, went down swinging on a wicked change-up.

"That was the game right there," Robinson said.

Technically, the game wasn't decided until catcher Brian Schneider came up to face Pirates left-hander Mike Gonzalez with two outs and runners on first and second in the eighth. Gonzalez owns a biting slider, and Schneider fouled off two of them with two strikes -- barely. With the count full and the runners off, he finally got a fastball -- "I didn't hit it hard at all," he said. But it floated over the head of shortstop Jack Wilson, scoring Church with what ended up being the winning run.

Chad Cordero came on for his 23rd save, and 20th consecutive successful opportunity, one not secured until Church made his twisting catch in left. Church could barely breathe afterward, and dressed gingerly at his locker, needing help from Carroll to even pull his shirt over his head. The entire team waited more than a minute at midfield for Church to get off the ground and join the celebration.

The catch, the wall, the win, the wait, how does that all feel?

"It was worth it," Church said.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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