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Nationals' Patterson Closes Out San Diego

John Patterson celebrates after finishing off a three-hit gem Friday night in which he retires the last 14 batters he faces, keeping the Nationals on pace in the playoff chase with a 5-1 victory over the Padres.
John Patterson celebrates after finishing off a three-hit gem Friday night in which he retires the last 14 batters he faces, keeping the Nationals on pace in the playoff chase with a 5-1 victory over the Padres. (Denis Poroy - AP)

"He's been swinging the bat great," Wilkerson said, "and he hasn't given up."

So add that to the encouraging signs at this crucial time. The only lousy development: utility man Jamey Carroll stumbled making a play in the top of the ninth, and had to come out of the game with a rolled ankle. Carroll, however, walked off under his own power, and exchanged fist bumps with his teammates. He is day-to-day.

Still, even with that, the clubhouse was decidedly up. "This is fun," Wilkerson said. The games here this weekend, which follow a three-game sweep of the Mets in New York, are critical to the race not only because each game means something, but because they are, in a way, a breather from the grind that comes from competing in the National League East.

The Nationals are in the midst of a 12-game stretch against sub-.500 teams -- the three with the Mets, three here, three with the San Francisco Giants at RFK Stadium, and then three with the Mets at RFK. That, General Manager Jim Bowden said, is reason enough to believe the Nationals can make this competitive until the last week, when they finish with three at Florida and three more at home against Philadelphia.

"This is your shot," Bowden said. "You want to make a run, you make it right here. And then the last week, you're going to get to play Philadelphia and Florida straight on, knowing that if you're within three, all you got to do is sweep and you're in. We're in position to do it."

They're in better position because of what happened Friday. Peavy (12-7) had already dominated the Nationals once this year, tossing a five-hit shutout on Aug. 7 at RFK Stadium. But Guzman's two-out, two-run double in the fifth gave the Nationals both the lead and some hope, and Preston Wilson delivered a high chopper in the sixth with the bases loaded that scored one run, and then plated another when third baseman Sean Burroughs made an errant throw.

From there, it was Patterson's show. He allowed only Ramon Hernandez's solo homer in the first.

In the ninth, he got Mark Loretta to ground to third, and when Nick Johnson secured the final out at first, Patterson pumped his fist, then hit himself on the chest. This time, it wasn't to clear out a cough. It was to show his heart, at the time his team needed just that.


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