Nationals Hand Giants Eighth Straight Loss

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; 2:46 AM


The man at the center of the deal they didn't make, Alfonso Soriano, started the rest of his career with the Washington Nationals by collecting three hits and, for good measure, throwing out a runner at the plate. But the man at the center of the deal the Nationals did make, right fielder Austin Kearns, showed that, whether his trade from Cincinnati was jarring or not, he is a part of the future of the Nationals.

On the day the trade deadline came and went without the Nationals making a deal, Kearns helped Washington break a three-game losing streak by going 3 for 5 with a three-run double, the blow that broke open a 10-7 victory over the San Francisco Giants Monday night, the Giants eighth straight loss.

This could have been a breeze, given the nights for Soriano and Kearns, part of a 14-hit barrage that led to a six-run lead. But with the state of the Nationals bullpen, which now features five pitchers who have spent part of the season in the minors, very few victories the rest of the way will come easily.

"It seems like we need every run we get, no matter how many we get," Manager Frank Robinson said.

Indeed, the Nationals merely survived. With Giants slugger Barry Bonds representing the tying run in the eighth, they were forced to call on closer Chad Cordero, he of the 11 homers allowed. Bonds drove a 3-2 pitch to deep center, and the crowd rose.

When he hit it, Cordero said, I thought he might have hit it out.

But it fell into the glove of center fielder Ryan Church. Thus, a win at last, and one that came in relative peace. The Nationals left for this nine-game, three-city trip having swept six straight at home against the Chicago Cubs and the Giants. But when they arrived in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers, the tumult around Soriano and whether he would be traded had engulfed the club, and they were swept.

There was a much lighter feeling around the team Monday. Even before the game, when teammates joked with Soriano by rolling out a makeshift carpet to his locker and providing him with a special large, cushy chair, there was a sense of relief that the focus was back on, of all things, baseball.

"Now that it's all over, I think everybody feels a little bit better," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Everybody is a little more relaxed. I think everyone was expecting it to happen, and now that it didn't, we're relieved."

Soriano, though, went hitless in his first two at-bats, making him 2 for 12 on the road trip. The Nationals still took a 2-1 lead into the fourth, when they loaded the bases. And here, finally, after a week of questions for which he had no answers, Soriano came through. He lofted a pitch from lefty Noah Lowry into left-center, a ball that bounced over the fence for an automatic double that scored two. Felipe Lopez followed with a sacrifice fly and Zimmerman scored Soriano with a bloop single to put the Nationals ahead, 6-1.

They handed that advantage to long-armed right-hander Pedro Astacio, who blew through nine consecutive batters between the second and the fifth. But with one out in the fifth, he gave up a single to Randy Winn, a run-scoring triple to Omar Vizquel and an RBI single to Ray Durham.

Astacio, with the Giants trailing 6-3, now had this formidable task: Facing Bonds. Gamely, though, Astacio challenged the slugger, throwing him fastballs inside. Bonds eventually popped out (he went 0 for 4 with a walk) and Steve Finley followed by flying out.

Astacio survived into the seventh, when he gave up a leadoff single to Winn and Vizquel's second triple. With the Giants now within 6-4, the Nationals brought in Ryan Wagner, the last piece in the deal that brought Kearns and Lopez from Cincinnati.

An outfield assist from Alfonso Soriano on a fly out from Finley helped Wagner escape the jam. Brian Schneider, who replaced Robert Fick, applied the tag. Fick, who left with rib cartilage separation, is due for an MRI Tuesday.

Wagner stayed in for the eighth and gave up three runs. Roy Corcoran immediately allowed a hit in relief of Wagner and Robinson turned to closer Chad Cordero. Cordero got out of the inning by retiring Barry Bonds on a fly to center and earned the save with a scoreless ninth.

A day marked most by the event that didn't happen came to its conclusion with Alfonso Soriano and the Nationals winning their first game of this road trip.

The clubhouse, for once, was filled with optimism. There was no talk of who was going where. There was only talk of who might be here to stay.

"A big part of that is definitely keeping Sori here, keeping him around," Kearns said. "He means as much in this clubhouse to the team as he does on the field."

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