Cubs Settle In Against Nationals
Cubs 3, Nationals 1

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 18, 2009

When high-profile teams come to Washington, so do their fans, filling the seats Nationals followers leave empty. But even though Cubs fans drowned out the others during the seventh inning stretch -- "Root, root, root for the Cubbies!" -- there were a few other memorable Chicago snapshots that showed up last night.

There was Aramis Ramírez, who has hit his share of home runs over Wrigley Field's ivy-covered walls, lifting a solo shot in the third inning. There was beloved leadoff batter Kosuke Fukudome slapping hits around the field. And there was even a foul ball reminiscent of the one snatched by vilified Cubs fan Steve Bartman.

This was an evening that would have made Harry Caray smile. Cubs win!

Chicago defeated the Nationals, 3-1, last night before 27,581 at Nationals Park to win its second in a row of this series.

The second night of Jim Riggleman's tenure as Washington's interim manager did not look any better than the first. The Nationals failed to hit, and they sometimes looked sloppy in the field, with Alberto González committing an error in the first inning and Ryan Zimmerman almost throwing away another third-to-first grounder in the ninth.

There were two positives for Washington. The first was Nyjer Morgan, who continued his hot play since joining the Nationals by going 3 for 5. The other was that Washington's maligned bullpen did give away the lead.

But that is because it was ugly from the start for the Nationals. On the evening's first pitch, Fukudome doubled down the first base line. On the evening's third pitch, Ryan Theriot hit a routine grounder to short that González could not corral.

Craig Stammen, the Nationals' starter, was unable to match his scintillating effort last time out; he had his first career complete game in his previous start. Against the Cubs last night, Stammen did not have as much success with a sinker that has been his signature pitch in his short major league career.

But he also battled in tough spots and faced the minimum three batters in three innings. He allowed two mistakes that ended up hurting him: a two-run double in the second inning and a home run to Ramírez in the third. Over six innings, Stammen allowed three runs on six hits with two strikeouts and one walk.

Washington's only run came in the first inning. With two outs, the Nationals loaded the bases but emerged with little to show for it. And they can thank Zambrano, who walked Willie Harris on five pitches to score Nick Johnson.

Indeed, Washington had help putting runners on base. Johnson walked after a quality, nine-pitch at-bat. But then Adam Dunn was intentionally walked and Josh Willingham reached on an error after Theriot booted his routine ground ball at short. Harris almost provided a spark, hooking a deep shot just foul for what would have been a grand slam.

The Cubs, however, scored their first runs with a flourish. Off the bat of a not-so-unlikely source, Zambrano, Chicago took a 2-1 lead in the second inning. Zambrano drove a hanging pitch to the corner of right field for a two-run double, scoring Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.

The husky Zambrano chugged into second standing up. Zambrano hit his third home run of the season in his most recent start, against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, and was batting .238 for his career entering last night's game against the Nationals.

On the mound, Zambrano scuffled in the first inning but rebounded for the remainder of his outing. He relented four hits and no earned runs with six strikeouts and four walks in five innings.

In the third, Chicago added another tally just as emphatically. Ramirez blasted his fifth home run of the season on a 1-1 pitch. He drove a low fastball over the wall in left field, holding his follow-through pose for a moment as he admired his handiwork before dropping his bat.

But the fourth inning provided the closest thing to tangible evidence that the baseball gods were giving a wink and nod at the Cubs last night.

With two outs, Michael Hoffpauir sprinted to the left field railing on a Willie Harris foul ball. He leapt headlong toward the crowd and made a spectacular grab, avoiding a balding man in the front row and a Nationals ballgirl in his way.

This was no Bartman moment. Hoffpauir emerged the ball from the scrum to end the inning.

Last night belonged to the Cubs.

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