Adam Dunn Hits His 300th Career Home Run as Nationals Rally to Beat Braves, 5-3

Adam Dunn is greeted by Josh Willingham after hitting the 300th home run of his career in the seventh inning.
Adam Dunn is greeted by Josh Willingham after hitting the 300th home run of his career in the seventh inning. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 300th career home run of Adam Troy Dunn, when ball met bat, followed the flight path of so many before it. Up it went, engine-powered, roaring beyond the outfielders, beyond the right field wall, beyond the lower section of outfield seats, finally dropping about 15 rows up in Section 239, well beyond the barrier of a normal man's limitations.

Little about Dunn's career, or his homers, obeys the conventions. He hits balls of unusual distance with unusual regularity and, though he hasn't yet played for a winning team, the full majesty of a tape-measure homer still claims a certain power. Even after it has landed.

Dunn's milestone home run, when it happened, initially looked like a forlorn highlight in another loss. Instead, it changed everything, creating the pivot point that led to Washington's 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves yesterday afternoon at Nationals Park.

Dunn's seventh-inning homer broke the shutout of a rookie opponent, triggered an instant jolt of energy, and prompted one teammate to immediately predict a comeback. It spawned a standing ovation, a curtain call, a video montage of season highlights set to Phil Collins music and, a half-inning later, a second (non-standing) ovation. Finally, it broke the ice for a full-throttle comeback, perhaps Washington's most rousing effort of the season.

After the game, Dunn was interested less in how far his 300th homer carried, and more in how it helped carry his team.

"That 300th homer would have been hard to talk about" if the Nationals had lost, Dunn said. "At the time, it really wasn't that significant, but the reason I say that -- it was a solo home run and we were still down by two."

Prior to Dunn's homer -- the 22nd of his season, tied for third in the National League -- the Nationals were tumbling toward another loss and trailed 3-0 entering the seventh. Atlanta rookie phenom Tommy Hanson had controlled Washington's lineup all afternoon, holding the team to two hits, flipping between a bending slider and a mid-90s fastball, and at one point penning 16 straight batters within the infield.

As Dunn dug in to lead off the seventh, Hanson, making his sixth major league start, had thrown 26 consecutive scoreless innings.

But that streak shattered, and the afternoon changed, when Dunn drilled a 2-2 fastball halfway to Eastern Market. The Nationals were still down 3-1, but they saw an opportunity. An opportunity to reward starter John Lannan, on his way to an eight-inning, three-run performance. An opportunity to give Dunn an outcome befitting a milestone.

"After the seventh inning," Lannan (6-5) said, "I told Dunn that we were going to win this game. I knew we were going to come back and win."

"Yeah, he did," Dunn said, confirming the prognostication. "In the seventh inning. You know, maybe he sees dead people, too."

From that moment, Washington's afternoon turned golden. Lannan finished the top of the eighth with another double play, the fourth of the day. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Atlanta turned to its bullpen. Washington responded with a succession of quality at-bats. Ronnie Belliard came off the bench, pinch-hitting, and worked a single to left. Josh Bard, also pinch-hitting, drew a walk. Nyjer Morgan dropped a textbook sacrifice bunt. Nick Johnson drew a full-count walk. Ryan Zimmerman tied the game with a two-run single, and then Dunn, swinging at the first pitch, sailed a liner to center, giving the Nationals the go-ahead run.

After the game, Dunn met with the fan who caught his home run ball, exchanging a signed jersey for the memento, which he tucked into his locker. Teammates, as well as Manager Manny Acta, talked about the accomplishment. Dunn is 29 years 237 days old. Of the 123 members in the 300-home run club, only 13, Dunn among them, have joined before age 30. This year, too, Dunn's home runs have corresponded with results. When Dunn homers, the Nationals are 10-10. (Twice he's had multi-homer games.) When he doesn't, they are 13-45.

Today, Major League Baseball will announce its all-star teams. Though Washington has several borderline candidates, including Zimmerman and shortstop Cristian Guzmán, Dunn's productivity has prompted some in the organization to vouch for his candidacy.

"I think our all-star should be Dunn," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said.

Said Dunn, speaking about his season: "Again, that's something -- I don't know how to put that into words. There have been so many opportunities this year that, personally, have been not very good. Awful. And it's just tough kind of looking at personal stats when our record is what it is. I mean, I would give back every single home run if we could be whatever our record is, but flip-flopped. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Winning is everything in this game. Period."

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