Nats Rally in 9th, Win 5th in a Row
Kearns's Sacrifice Fly Caps Two-Run Comeback Off Benitez: Nationals 4, Giants 3

By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006; E01

Austin Kearns has been a Washington National for exactly two weeks. But only last night did he officially arrive.

Kearns delivered his first big blow for his new club, driving in the winning run with a sacrifice fly to cap a two-run ninth inning that pushed the Nationals to a 4-3 victory against the San Francisco Giants.

Barry Bonds received another steady chorus of boos from the 30,248 at RFK Stadium before leaving in the ninth inning with a mild hamstring strain. Another day passed quietly during the Alfonso Soriano Trade Watch. Kearns took center stage to lead Washington to its season-high fifth straight victory.

"It's a matter of getting comfortable," said Kearns, who atoned for a missed opportunity earlier in the game. "Each day is getting better."

Kearns looked comfortable with the bases loaded, one out and the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the ninth. Facing Giants closer Armando Benitez, Kearns sent a high fly ball deep enough to left field to score fellow newcomer Felipe Lopez from third.

"Benitez was throwing pretty hard," said Kearns, who received a roaring ovation from the crowd. He said he was "looking fastball, hopefully up in the zone and I just wanted to get it to the outfield."

For Washington fans, it was their first glimpse of what Kearns could do under pressure. But the sight was not new for Lopez, Kearns's teammate with the Reds.

"He's a clutch guy," said Lopez, who came over in the trade with Kearns. "He comes through when the time is right."

Earlier in the inning, Ryan Zimmerman tied the game with a single to drive in Robert Fick, who drew a leadoff walk to start the Nationals' rally.

Kearns delivered in the clutch despite failing in a similar situation earlier in the game. Giants Manager Felipe Alou called for an intentional walk of Nick Johnson, loading the bases in the seventh inning, to face Kearns. With the Nationals trailing 3-2, Kearns flied out to end the inning.

But Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said Kearns was due to deliver.

"He's a major league hitter," Robinson said. "If you keep giving up chances, he's going to come through. That's why he's up there."

The Nationals led 2-1 heading into the seventh inning when San Francisco's Randy Winn blooped a two-run single off Nationals relief pitcher Mike Stanton to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.

An error by Nationals second baseman Marlon Anderson set the table for the Giants.

With one away, Todd Greene reached first when Anderson bobbled a routine grounder. Todd Linden, pinch hitting for Giants starting pitcher Noah Lowry, doubled down the right field line. With one out and runners on second and third, Robinson pulled starter Pedro Astacio for the left-hander Stanton.

Winn, a switch hitter batting right-handed, defied the stat sheet and poked a fly ball down the right field line that cleared the bases. Winn entered the game batting .196 against lefties.

The Nationals struck first, taking an early 2-0 lead.

In the third, Soriano used alert base running to stretch a long single into a sliding double. With Lopez at the plate, Lowry nearly picked off Soriano twice. On his third throw to second, Lowry caught Soriano trying to steal third. But Giants second baseman Ray Durham botched the throw to third baseman Pedro Feliz, hitting Soriano in the back with the ball.

After Lopez struck out, Zimmerman doubled to the gap in left-center, driving in Soriano. Johnson scored Zimmerman with a single to right field.

The Giants responded in the fourth inning when Durham made up for his error, scoring Shea Hillenbrand with a single to left field to cut the Nationals' lead to 2-1.

But Astacio minimized the damage, allowing just one run after the Giants put runners on first and second with one out.

He also worked out of another jam in the fifth, stifling a two-out rally by getting Hillenbrand to ground out to short with two runners aboard.

Astacio threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and three runs, two earned. He walked two and struck out four.

Meanwhile, as has become custom in ballparks outside of San Francisco, the fans jeered Bonds at every chance.

The boos rained down as the slugger unstrapped his protective arm covering and strolled to first base after a second-inning walk. He drew more boos in the fifth inning when he made a nice running catch of a Johnson fly ball in foul territory.

Bonds finished 0 for 2 with two walks.

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