By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Elijah Dukes was thankful after last night's 14-inning affair concluded. Thankful for his manager recently moving him to second in the batting order, where he has seen more fastballs. Thankful he was able to ignore his desire to hit another home run when all his team needed was a single.
Thankful his starting pitcher understood more than anyone else that sometimes you just have to make a judgment call and then deal with the consequences later.
The Nationals knocked off Texas, 4-3, at Nationals Park, and Dukes was responsible for ending the contest. With two outs and the bases loaded, Dukes hit a dribbler past the outstretched glove of Rangers shortstop Michael Young.
After 4 hours 10 minutes of baseball, the Nationals gave the sampling of fans left from a crowd that topped out at 30,359 some measure of contentment. By that time, it was too late for the Friday night fireworks to commence, so a win would have to do.
"I was trying not to press and just let it come," said Dukes, whose five hits marked a career high. "I feel good [at the plate] right now, but I don't know about being in any 'zone.' "
Aside from a second inning in which a walk to the opposing pitcher kick-started a three-run Texas splurge, the Nationals' pitching staff performed as if it was in some sort of zone.
Tim Redding, who made the start despite coming down with a stomach illness on the drive to the ballpark, lasted six innings and allowed three runs on five hits and two walks. Redding and five relief pitchers combined to pitch 12 scoreless innings following the second frame. They allowed three base runners during that span, and one of those came about due to a fielding error by Felipe López in the top of the 11th.
"The win should go to the whole bullpen," said Joel Hanrahan, who turned in two scoreless innings. "This was big for us after the way the road trip ended. We saw that ESPN was showing we had a 12 ERA, but we knew we were better than that."
For at least one night, they were. Saúl Rivera pitched three scoreless innings, including inducing pinch hitter Milton Bradley and his .320 batting average into a harmless groundout in the top of the 10th.
But for all the effort the bullpen put into the win, Dukes deserves his share of the credit, as well. He sent the first Kevin Millwood offering of the eighth inning just over the left field fence. His second home run of the season tied the game at 3.
With one swift swing, Dukes quieted concerns over another mishandled opportunity by the Nationals two hours earlier. The second inning was forgotten. Hope -- for the outcome of this game, at least -- was renewed.
Marlon Byrd led off the second with a single and Gerald Laird followed with a double. The ball flew to the fence in left field, where Dukes thought about going for the catch, but then thought better of it. He chased down the ball and fired it to Dmitri Young, who charged across the diamond to tag out Byrd between third and home.
Redding, the Nationals' most reliable pitcher all season, then walked Ramón Vázquez to get to Millwood. But after working a 1-2 count, Redding walked Millwood with three straight balls to load the bases. Ian Kinsler followed with a bases-clearing double, and suddenly, the Nationals trailed by three.
"That seems to be my M.O.," Redding said of the walk to Millwood. "How many pitchers can get on base with me?"
Staring at an opportunity to unravel, Redding picked up in the third where he left off in a two-strikeout first. Josh Hamilton, the American League's leader in home runs and RBI, flailed early and often at Redding's offerings. He finished the night 0 for 6 with two strikeouts.
On the other end of the spectrum was Dukes, who came up to his starting pitcher after the second inning and apologized for not making more of an effort to catch Kinsler's double. Redding told Dukes he understood, a move that paid dividends for the Nationals during Dukes's later at-bats.
"It's good to have a pitcher who understands," Dukes said. "It's a judgment call."