Lannan's Complete Game Lifts Nationals Over Mets

Washington Nationals' Nick Johnson watches his three-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game with the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington, Saturday, June 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Nationals' Nick Johnson watches his three-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game with the New York Mets at Nationals Park in Washington, Saturday, June 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon - AP)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yesterday, 25 members of the Washington Nationals reported to the ballpark for another regular workday and encountered nothing regular whatsoever. They savored a win (rare); a win against an NL East foe (rarer still); a lopsided win (rarest of all); and they played postgame clubhouse music. Their pitcher threw a complete game. Their defense turned five double plays. Their offense smacked three homers. When it was all over, after just two hours, John Lannan used three words to describe how he felt: "Tired. Hungry. Great."

With their 7-1 thumping of the New York Mets last night, the worst team in baseball disassociated itself, briefly, from anything that resembled the very worst. The Nationals had entered the night with a .264 winning percentage, one loss shy of hitting the 120-loss pace. But cruelty took the night off. For once, the weather cooperated. Some 31,456 filled Nationals Park, and a good majority were even rooting for the home team. Lannan threw a four-hit complete game, facing only 30 hitters. For the first time since April 26, the Nationals won by more than five runs.

"I mean, this is probably by far the best complete game we've played all year," outfielder Adam Dunn said.

"It was unbelievable how smart you can get in one night when you get a pitching performance like that and an offense like that and a defense like that," Manager Manny Acta said. "But you're right. We were due for at least good weather. We got it tonight, and then John was just outstanding for us."

To summarize the full extent of yesterday's oddities, it helps to know the context:

Washington's record, previously, against NL East opponents: 5-26.

The previous time one of its starting pitchers notched a win: May 13.

Total runs produced by its lineup in the three previous games: Three.

Career complete games for Lannan, before this one: Zero.

Previous games in which the Nationals (2005-present) turned more than four double plays: Zero.

Lannan received immediate and forceful help from Washington's lineup, which torched New York starter John Maine for seven runs (counting homers from Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Nick Johnson) in four-plus innings. But really, Lannan created his own good fortune. Part of that came from his sharp two-seam fastball, which, according to his account, led to each and every one of his 19 ground-ball outs. Ground-ball double plays, conventional 6-4-3s and 4-6-3s, saved Lannan in the first inning, the second inning and the third inning.

But the double play that Lannan got in the fourth defied any categorization, except to say that when plays like this are happening, even a last-place team is bound to win. To open the fourth, Lannan walked Luis Castillo on four pitches, an odious way to start the inning. But then, the next hitter, Emil Brown, sizzled a liner to right. Dukes charged hard to his right and made a sliding attempt. Here's where the confusion began. Had Dukes caught the ball? Had he trapped it? Castillo, the lead base runner, wasn't sure. He was almost on second base, then backtracked, and soon he was face-to-face with Brown, who had already rounded first.


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