Austin Kearns Enjoys Moment in Sun in Washington Nationals' 3-2 Victory Over San Diego Padres

Washington Nationals' Adam Dunn watches his grand slam leave the park against the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 25, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Washington Nationals' Adam Dunn watches his grand slam leave the park against the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 25, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP)
By Ishita Singh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009

After struggling all season, Austin Kearns was finally a hero at Nationals Park on Sunday, hitting an RBI single in the 10th inning to win the game, 3-2. It was Kearns's first RBI since June 27, and his 17th this season.

"In that situation, you're just trying to get the guy in, and hopefully get a win," Kearns said. "I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and not miss it."

The team was happy for the veteran Kearns after the game.

"The one guy that needed that was Austin, and I'm glad it happened for him," starting pitcher John Lannan said. "He's a great teammate and a great ballplayer. He's hanging in there and working hard, and I'm proud he could do that today."

Kearns's hit came after Nyjer Morgan led off the 10th with a bunt toward third base for a hit. Though Morgan did not start the game, as a precautionary move to rest a sore left hamstring, he looked perfectly fine as he sped down the first base line to outrun Padres' third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff's throw.

"It's fine," Morgan said about his hamstring after the game. "It's just a little tender, but I'm good. Obviously you saw me scooting down the line so I'm all right."

Morgan moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Willie Harris, who started the game in center field but moved to left in the top of the ninth to allow Morgan to play center. An intentional walk put Nick Johnson on base, and after Ryan Zimmerman flied out to center field, Kearns, batting in Adam Dunn's stead after entering as a defensive replacement in the ninth, laced a 1-0 pitch to deep right center, scoring Morgan.

The Nationals got another strong start from Lannan, who is 5-2 in his past seven decisions but had to settle for a no-decision Sunday. He went eight innings and allowed only one run on five hits. Lannan relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it on 67 out of 81 pitches total. He threw 59 strikes in the game.

"I had good command today," Lannan said. "My fastball, I'm really trusting it. It's really getting a lot of groundballs and guys were swinging early in the count, which really helped me out."

Lannan's lone run allowed came off Kouzmanoff's double to center field in the sixth inning. The Nationals responded in the bottom of the seventh with Josh Willingham's homer to left field, Willingham's 14th of the season, to tie the game at 1-1. They then went ahead in the eighth when Dunn hit a single to right-center field, scoring Harris. With a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth inning, interim manager Jim Riggleman made some defensive changes, hoping to preserve the lead. Morgan, who had come in as a pinch hitter for Lannan in the eighth, started the ninth inning in center field. Harris moved to left field, and Kearns replaced Josh Willingham in right field.

Riggleman also brought on pitcher Mike MacDougal to close out the ninth. MacDougal tallied two quick outs, but San Diego right fielder Kyle Blanks got a hold of the first pitch he saw off the reliever and knocked it well into the left-field stands, tying the game at 2.

"It takes the wind out of your sails a little bit," Riggleman said of Blanks's home run. "You just have to start thinking right away, what are we going to do now as far as who's going to be available to pinch-hit, how are we going to get this last out. The mind keeps working, but it did take the wind out of our sails for a few minutes."

MacDougal was able to close out the ninth, and left partway through the 10th, after surrendering a single to catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Joe Beimel then got two quick flyouts to end the 10th inning. Beimel came away with the win, his first of the season, while Greg Burke was the losing pitcher for San Diego. Padres starter Chad Gaudin allowed one run in seven innings, giving up five hits and two walks while striking out four.

With the win, the Nationals won their second series in a row, after going 2-1 against the New York Mets. Next up is a road trip with four games in Milwaukee and four in Pittsburgh.

"We're going to two tough places to play two really good teams," Dunn said, "but our spirits are high, so we're looking forward to getting into Milwaukee."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company