Nationals Have a Field Day

Ryan Langerhans, right, is congratulated by Austin Kearns after his three-run homer in the fifth gave the Nats a 7-2 lead.
Ryan Langerhans, right, is congratulated by Austin Kearns after his three-run homer in the fifth gave the Nats a 7-2 lead. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007

There shouldn't have been any moments like this, when a throw across the diamond brought the harsh realization to the 27,119 fans at RFK Stadium that the tying run was heading to the plate, that a five-run lead was in the process of evaporating and that the Washington Nationals had some sizable lumps in their throats.

But in the seventh inning, Ryan Zimmerman -- who fielded as many balls yesterday as a hockey goalie faces shots -- tracked down Carlos Lee's grounder down the line. He turned and in one motion flung it toward first. Just then, Houston's Lance Berkman rounded third, heading home. What had been a 7-2 game was on its way to being tied.

"But I saw Dmitri," catcher Jesus Flores said. "He was ready."

That Dmitri Young took the wide throw at first and fired it home in time to throw out Berkman was just one of the itsy-bitsy pieces that made up the Nationals' 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros. But that one hair-raising moment showed so much about Zimmerman and Young and the place they occupy on the Nationals and in the game, a veteran taking a stray throw from a 22-year-old and turning it into a rally-ending out.

The other elements in this one were every bit as important, starting with key two-out doubles from Ryan Church and Austin Kearns in a three-run first, featuring Ryan Langerhans's three-run homer in the fifth that provided the five-run cushion and ending with Chad Cordero's 17th save -- one that wasn't in the books until he got Hunter Pence to ground out with the tying run on third.

Start, though, with Berkman getting nailed at the plate. Right-hander Jason Bergmann had sailed into the top of the seventh, his only mistakes a pair of home runs to Mike Lamb and Luke Scott. But when he allowed those two hitters to open the frame with singles, Manager Manny Acta came out to remove him.

"I wanted to get him a win," Acta said.

That proved difficult. Ray King allowed a double to Eric Munson for one run, then Saul Rivera a walk and a double to Berkman for another, and it was 7-5 with runners on second and third. That brought up Lee, whose 78 RBI are 26 more than any National. He hit the grounder to third.

The previous inning, Zimmerman made a pair of fine stops, one on a grounder by Lee to his left in which he ended up getting a force at second, another on a diving stop on Mark Loretta to end an inning in which the Astros threatened to score. Acta believes Zimmerman's everyday play at third is overlooked because so much is expected of him.

"This kid is great," Acta said afterward. "What kind of third base did this kid play today? Just unbelievable. He probably saved about seven runs today."

Zimmerman, too, says he will play defense only one way. He will pursue every ball hit to the left side of the infield, and try to make the throw every time.

"If you don't play that way, you would second-guess yourself after the game, whether you could have got to some balls or could've made this play or made that play," Zimmerman said.

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