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Sandoval's Three-Run Homer Ends Giants' Win Over Nats

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009; 2:33 AM

SAN FRANCISCO, May 13 -- With 131 games left in the season, the Nationals are in danger of being reduced to a sideshow: the one that Ryan Zimmerman produces each time he comes to the plate.

But at least they have that.

Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 30 games before sundown here Tuesday night, lining a sharp single to center while much of a largely oblivious crowd was settling into its seats. The Nats then lost, 9-7, to the Giants, this one a total killer that, in the end, obliterated the good feelings of Zimmerman's streak and an unlikely comeback that had put the Nationals one strike away from a win.

Lefty Joe Beimel, trying to contain the mayhem, served up a three-run homer to third baseman Pablo Sandoval into the left field seats with two out in the bottom of the ninth. It was the sixth time in the short season that Washington's bullpen had relinquished a lead or a tie after the eighth inning.

"We have tried everybody and their cousins, and we still can't get anybody to put a zero up in the eighth and the ninth innings," said Manager Manny Acta. "And that's really just killing us. It's very discouraging to waste the type of offense that we're displaying out there for a month and a half now and we still don't have much to show for it."

The Nats (10-21) are the worst team in baseball, and, in their second year at Nationals Park, they have the 29th lowest attendance out of Major League baseball's 30 teams. That makes today's game, against left-hander Barry Zito, all the more critical, with the club hoping desperately that Zimmerman can carry his streak home Friday against the Phillies.

Zimmerman singled in his first two at-bats Tuesday as the Nats settled into what initially appeared to be another desultory evening. That lasted until the seventh, when, four runs down, Nick Johnson hit a three-run, two-out bomb off right-hander Matt Cain. Johnson added a two-run ground-ball single in the eighth; his five RBI tied a career high.

The Nationals suddenly found themselves ahead by a run going into the bottom of the ninth with Beimel, the latest selection from Acta's roulette wheel of closers, standing on the mound. Beimel had been reinstated from the disabled list just last week after straining his hip while fielding a bunt on April 20.

Beimel retired the first two batters. He then gave up a single up the middle to left fielder Emmanuel Burris. Beimel tried to pick Burris off first and ended up throwing the ball away. He then walked Edgar Rentería, setting up the confrontation with Sandoval, who on his previous at-bat had tripped over his own feet trying to leg out a triple, collapsing between second and third before being tagged out.

Sandoval, who had initially appeared to be hurt on the play, ran the count to 2-2. Beimel then hung what he later identified as a sinker, and Sandoval pounded it into the left field seats, ending the game.

"I got two quick outs and just didn't finish it out," said Beimel. "I tried to go sinker away and it kind of cut back across the middle of the plate and he hit it pretty well. I've just got to bounce back tomorrow. It's definitely frustrating for the team to have all these wins going into the ninth inning and losing them."

"That's pretty much been the story of our season," said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman increasingly seems like he's on an opposite trajectory from his struggling team.

If he is feeling pressure of the streak, it is not apparent. When he came up in the first, dusk was settling in. He worked the count to 1-1 and then drilled a Cain fastball into center field. Zimmerman has extended his streak on his first at-bat 14 times, including a single off Randy Johnson on Monday.

In the fourth inning, Cain threw him a back-breaking curve, and Zimmerman again bashed it past the pitcher's outstretched glove into center field. Adam Dunn followed with a towering drive to right-center field. The ball bounced off right fielder Nate Schierholtz's glove at the fence. Zimmerman then tagged up on a hard Willie Harris line drive to right, coming across the plate with a head first slide.

"It's fun; I'm enjoying the ride," Zimmerman said. Asked if he'd like to carry the streak back to Washington, he said: "I think I'd rather win, but it would be fun. It would be fun to carry it on for a long time."

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