Zimmerman's Powerful Show Helps Propel Nats in Houston

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

HOUSTON, Aug. 21 -- At the all-star break, Ryan Zimmerman was in the midst of a sophomore malaise, Nook Logan under serious consideration of being jettisoned by the Washington Nationals. But by this point in the 162-game slog that is a baseball season, everything begins to even out, even some that are unexpected.

So it was that Logan, who at one point appeared to be as easy an out as the pitcher, rapped out five hits Tuesday night, a record for the Nationals. So it was that Zimmerman, struggling to stay at .250 at the break, tallied a triple, a homer and four RBI, all enough for the Nationals to take an 11-6 victory over the Houston Astros, one that took an excruciating 3 hours 44 minutes.

But for those two players, not to mention the Nationals as a whole, it was worth the wait. Though it will go unnoticed nationally -- and justifiably so, in the midst of pennant races -- Washington used its second straight victory to start this 10-game road trip to move out of last place in the National League East. With Florida's loss to St. Louis, the Nationals sit alone in fourth place in the division for the first time since April 20. On only four days all season have the Nationals awoke and found their names not in last alone or tied for the position. Wednesday will be the fifth.

"A baby step," Manager Manny Acta said.

For the players, though, there is some measure of satisfaction. When most prognosticators predicted dire developments for Washington during spring training -- projections of 120 losses, or perhaps more -- the Nationals were convinced that couldn't happen. Now, they are on pace to win 74 games, which would be three more than they managed last season, when their outfield included the dynamic Alfonso Soriano. Moreover, when they rise this morning, nine teams -- nearly a third of those in the majors -- will have worse records.

"This is the first time ever in my major league career I think I've been out of last place," Zimmerman said. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to win this many games the whole year."

Acta was quick to caution that, if the results are reversed Wednesday, the Nationals could find themselves settling right back into last. "There's still more than a month to go," he warned. Still, the people who are in the clubhouse think Tuesday's development is one reason to believe that, with a few key offseason acquisitions, this team might be ready to contend sooner rather than later.

"We're really only a few moves away from being really competitive," Zimmerman said. "That's what keeps us going. We kind of want to show everybody that we can win."

If such unexpected developments as Logan's five-hit outburst continue to surface, maybe anything's possible. He went 5 for 6 with a double and four singles, driving in three runs, scoring two and stealing a base.

Go back further than just 2005, when the Nationals arrived in the District. No member of this franchise -- which was the Montreal Expos from 1969 to 2004 -- had a five-hit game since Mark Grudzielanek did so against Colorado on May 8, 1998, nearly a decade ago.

"A great night," said Acta, and for Logan, it was a great one in a slew of decent outings, enough that he is now hitting .349 since the all-star break. His average at the break: .227. Staggering numbers with a simple explanation.

"After the all-star break," Logan said, "I've just been like, 'See the ball. Hit the ball.' "

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