Dukes Turns Bad Day Into A Good Night

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008

As the Washington Nationals surrendered a 7-0 lead yesterday against the St. Louis Cardinals, a relaxing night turned sloppy, then nerve-racking, then gut-wrenching. As a rule, teams that score two runs in a four-game span cannot afford to lose on days when they finally start scoring two runs every inning.

That's why Elijah Dukes's game-winning home run last night provided not just a joyous moment and a 10-9 win for the Nationals, but also a feeling of clubhouse-wide relief. The Nationals, by the narrowest margin, took advantage of the rarest asset, an offense powerful enough to counteract the mistakes of its pitchers. And they owe it to Dukes, who went 4 for 6 with four RBI.

The Nationals had built that 7-0 margin in the game's early stages, helped by some merry-go-round hitting off St. Louis starter Mike Parisi. But in the ninth, the Cardinals scored two runs off of closer Jon Rauch, the final coming on a two-out Aaron Miles infield hit that shortstop Cristian Guzmán couldn't field.

In the bottom of the 10th, after Brian Sanches allowed a home run, Washington trailed 9-8. The team stared at the prospects of a five-game losing streak.

With one swing, on a fastball from Ryan Franklin, Dukes saved the team from demoralization.

"I went up there, I was tired, out there all day, but I wanted to come through for my team," said Dukes, who raised his average to .203.

Flores's Hand Isn't Broken

In the fourth inning of the first game, a 94-mph fastball from St. Louis pitcher Todd Wellemeyer struck Jesús Flores in the left hand. Flores tried to shake it off and run to first, but halfway to the bag, he fell to his knees in pain. Both Manager Manny Acta and trainer Lee Kuntz rushed to attend to their catcher, the team's most productive hitter in the past month.

Given the tenor of that moment, the Nationals felt thankful for what happened next. Flores managed to stay in for the rest of the game, and postgame X-rays were negative. The team is calling the injury a contusion. "Right now I feel sore," said Flores, whose hand was wrapped in ice. "But hopefully I will feel better."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company