Nats Show Some Pop in Win at Old RFK

Washington's Austin Kearns bowls over Atlanta catcher Corky Miller to score in the 8th inning on Ronnie Belliard's single. Eight games remain at RFK.
Washington's Austin Kearns bowls over Atlanta catcher Corky Miller to score in the 8th inning on Ronnie Belliard's single. Eight games remain at RFK. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2007

When the ball shot against the blue of the sky, the onlookers gasped, and when it fell just short of the fence -- or, at least, where the fence will be -- they groaned. It is a sight familiar to Washington Nationals fans and players, who have watched so many balls come to earth on the warning track. Ryan Zimmerman turned and faced his teammates.

"It's still too far," he joked.

This was yesterday afternoon, hours before the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-4, at RFK Stadium, long known as cavernous. It came not at the 46-year-old stadium that is about to close its doors to baseball, but rather on a patch of gravel and dirt not far from the Anacostia River, the surface that will serve as the club's new park next year.

Homers from reserves D'Angelo Jimenez and Robert Fick -- as well as a shaky save from closer Chad Cordero, who continues to be befuddled by the Braves -- were the most important events in the official part of the Nationals' day. But an hour-long program in which Zimmerman and teammates Ryan Church, Justin Maxwell, Wily Mo Pe?a and Brian Schneider took a bit of batting practice at the unfinished park put the focus where this franchise wants it -- on the future.

"It's cool with a capital 'C'," said Mark Lerner, one of the team's owners. "I think when we're all standing here watching that first ball go into the sky, it's thrilling."

A group of construction workers -- many of them on the job site at 5 or 6 a.m. -- joined the players, gathering for autographs. The players marveled at the new scoreboard, where a massive high-definition television will be installed, and thought to next year.

Yet as much as the Nationals want to focus on the new park, some of their important construction work continues at RFK, where just eight games remain. That involves building a roster for 2008, when players such as Jimenez and Fick may be gone. But they were an enormous part of last night's win, Jimenez hitting a two-run blast in the first that was his first homer for Washington, Fick following with a three-run homer in the third that put the Nationals up 5-3.

"To be honest with you guys, I haven't been coming through all year," Fick said in a phone call. "The fact that I could come through for the team was priceless."

In fact, the pair was in the ballgame not because they are part of the future, but because two others were on the bench. Jimenez started in place of struggling shortstop Felipe Lopez, and Fick's homer came in a pinch-hit at-bat for Dmitri Young. An inning before, Young lay prone on the ground at first, having taken a bad-hop grounder off the bat of Atlanta's Mark Teixeira off the side of his neck.

"I was scared for him," Fick said. "To see the big fella lying on the ground like that is not a good sight."

Head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and Manager Manny Acta raced to Young's side, and the big first baseman eventually sat up, rose to his feet, played catch -- and stayed in the game. But by the time his next turn up came, Young had developed a bit of a headache, not to mention stiffness in his neck. Acta sent Fick to bat for him; Young is listed as day-to-day.

"I'd like to show Manny I have some good baseball left in me," Fick said, well aware of his uncertain status. He then put together one of his best at-bats of the season, fouling off four two-strike pitches before launching the ball into the right field bullpen.

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