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Nationals Rally in Eighth to End 12-Game Skid

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tim Redding throws in the first inning of a baseball game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tim Redding throws in the first inning of a baseball game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek) (Tom Mihalek - AP)

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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 21 -- The corridor leading to the visitor's clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park resonated with music blaring from stereo speakers on Thursday night. The Washington Nationals were making jokes and taking their time changing out of uniforms just worn while beating the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-3.

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The clubhouse was festive. The players were smiling. The Nationals had lost 12 games in a row and provided little indication that such a streak would snap. But they eradicated the burden of wondering when the next win would come and instead found a way to sneak out a victory in a fashion that would shock fans who watch the team on a regular basis.

They stayed close with stellar starting pitching. They received timely hitting. And when they needed their bullpen the most, it responded.

"It's a big weight off our shoulders," said Joel Hanrahan, the Nationals' closer who completed the franchise's first two-inning save since it moved from Montreal. "People writing about it everywhere, losing 12 in a row and whatnot. We just had to get that one and see where it takes us."

Washington trailed 3-2 heading into the eighth inning before opening the frame with singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge. Ronnie Belliard sacrificed both players over to the next base.

During the past 12 games, the Nationals likely would have squandered the opportunity. On Thursday, they didn't, getting back-to-back RBI singles by Jesús Flores and Austin Kearns to take a 4-3 lead.

Manager Manny Acta turned to Hanrahan earlier than closers are usually called, but it was a risk Acta was willing to take.

"He hadn't had a chance to save a ballgame in two weeks," Acta said. "I don't think it would be too much to ask him for a two-inning save to snap out of it."

Hanrahan found himself in a jam early with runners on first and second base and no outs. Yet a quick strikeout and a double play allowed Washington to escape the inning with the lead .

The bottom of the ninth became suspenseful when, with two outs and a runner on third base, Hanrahan faced a full count. Pinch hitter Chris Coste fouled off two sliders before grounding to shortstop Cristian Guzmán, who fielded the ball cleanly and threw to first to end the losing streak.

The game would never have been that close had Tim Redding not pitched one of his best games of the season. Relying on his fastball, which he estimated he threw 75 percent the game, Redding neutralized a potent Phillies lineup.

In six innings, he allowed just three hits and one run -- and he could have gone longer.


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