Nats Get Help All Around In Win

Micah Bowie gives the Nationals five solid innings while winning as a starter for the first time in more than 7 years.
Micah Bowie gives the Nationals five solid innings while winning as a starter for the first time in more than 7 years. (By Jeff Roberson -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 26, 2007

ST. LOUIS, May 25 -- There is no way Austin Kearns should have made the sprawling catch he did in the sixth inning Friday night, and at another point in the Washington Nationals' season, he might not have. There appeared to be little chance the Nationals would score in the sixth after they bounced into a double play with the bases loaded, but Nook Logan ripped a two-run double. And there was certainly no way Jesus Colome could extract himself from a two-on, no-out situation in the eighth -- yet he got a strikeout, then a double play.

As Memorial Day weekend kicked off and summer prepared to settle in, the surprising tale of these Nationals continued with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Washington's fourth win in a row included everything a fan would want -- lunging plays by Nationals second baseman Felipe Lopez, a spectacular grab from Kearns, a picture-perfect double play turned by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina with the bases loaded, and the Houdini escape act from Colome, among others.

"It was an awesome game," catcher Brian Schneider said. "It was an all-around good baseball game. The fans got their money's worth tonight. . . . It's team baseball, and we said we need to play team baseball and do small things, and tonight, it was a fun game."

You want fun? The Nationals already feel good about this seven-game road trip, but consider that since they beat the Florida Marlins on May 11, they have gone 11-4. No team in baseball has a better record over that span.

"Even when we were losing, we weren't getting blown out," Kearns said. "We feel like we should have more wins than we do now."

This one included a string of contributions from unlikely sources, fitting considering the unlikely way things have fallen into place for the Nationals over the past two weeks. Schneider hit a two-run homer to put the Nationals ahead in the second. Logan, the eighth-place hitter, went 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles, driving in two and scoring another. And left-hander Micah Bowie, who hadn't won a major league game as a starter since Sept. 23, 1999, came through with five clutch innings in which he allowed only two runs, solo homers to Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds.

"It's incredible, man," Bowie said. "Especially with that kind of ballgame right there."

Bowie was the first beneficiary of spectacular defense when Lopez, as Bowie said, "came out of nowhere" to snare a line drive off the bat of David Eckstein with a runner on second in the fifth. Had the ball gone through, it might have tied the game.

"It pumps you up on the mound," Bowie said. "When guys are going out there making plays and doing things like that, I don't know if you can go harder than you already go, but you want to make pitches when your teammates are going that hard."

So it is that the Nationals can survive a game in which the top four hitters in their lineup -- Lopez, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Church -- can go a combined 2 for 15 and the Nationals still muster a win. So it is that setup man Jon Rauch -- who is going through the worst week of his season -- can allow three ground-ball singles to lead off the eighth, failing to retire a batter while trying to protect a 5-3 lead, and Colome comes on to strike out Edmonds and get Molina to bounce into a double play.

"Amazing, man," said Schneider. "That could be the key to the game."

Even with all that, the play of the game -- and, perhaps, of the year -- came from Kearns. In the sixth, with the Nationals up 5-2, the Cardinals had runners on first and second and one out against reliever Winston Abreu. Edmonds, who entered the game with just five extra-base hits all year, drove a ball to right field. As Kearns went back, Scott Rolen, running from first, was so sure the ball would be driven over Kearns's head that he rounded second.

Kearns thought differently.

"I'm going after it like I have a play on it," he said. "I wasn't going after it to play it off the wall."

As he reached the warning track, Kearns dove, hurtling himself toward an unknown outcome -- not to mention risking injury. But he snared the ball as he skidded to the ground, eventually sliding into the base of the wall, a play destined for year-end videos. That Kearns hopped up and threw the ball back in to double Rolen off first ensured the Nationals escaped without further damage.

"Totally saved the game," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.

Technically, that credit goes to closer Chad Cordero. And if you need a measure of how well things are going for Washington right now, look to Cordero. He recorded his seventh save of the year by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth -- one started on another diving stop by Lopez. It was just the fifth perfect inning he has thrown in 22 outings this year. Last month, maybe that ball goes through, and Cordero has a problem. But not now, with summer on the way and the Nationals becoming hot.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company