Nationals Beat Diamondbacks for Sixth Straight Victory

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Earlier in the season, a five-run deficit would have been an insurmountable five-run deficit. Poor starting pitching would precede poorer relief pitching, and the Washington Nationals would spend the remaining innings elevating their ERA before descending in the standings.

These are not your April Nationals.

These are the August Nationals, a team that has won six consecutive games after Friday's 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park. The victory extended a season-long winning streak that now includes three different opponents.

"Right now, we're finding ways to win games," said outfielder Josh Willingham, whose two-run single in the seventh inning proved to be the game winner. "Earlier in the year, we probably don't come back to win those games."

With each win, the Nationals exhibit the chasm between a winning clubhouse and a losing clubhouse. Baseball players quickly put a game behind them -- win or lose -- upon leaving the clubhouse, but it becomes a sullen venue during a losing streak. A winning streak has the opposite effect. Heads are held higher, post-game banter rings louder and few players march without a smile.

On Friday night, even Collin Balester smiled. A few hours earlier, he allowed a five-run second inning that could have doubled as a Diamondbacks home run derby. Three Diamondbacks hit homers, including a two-out, three-run shot by Stephen Drew.

"He's a young guy, we're going to see that," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "Any of these young guys, when they're out there, you're going to have some days when they get knocked around, have big innings against them, but you got to keep running them out there."

Balester remained in the game after the second inning and lasted 2 1/3 more innings without allowing another run. One run in the second inning and three in the fourth brought the Nationals within one, an easy deficit to overcome for Washington's live bats.

Ryan Zimmerman tied the game in the fifth inning with his 24th home run the season -- matching a career high -- and extending his home run streak to four consecutive games and hitting streak to 11 games.

And then to make any April press clipping appear outdated, the Nationals returned in the seventh inning with a newfound attribute that would have left them dumbfounded months ago: clutch hitting.

Slugger Adam Dunn approached the plate with runners on first and third base and two outs. Cristian Guzmán stole second base, allowing the Nationals to intentionally walk Dunn.

Ordinarily, Riggleman would disapprove of such a move. He even wanted to tell Guzmán not to steal second on Friday, but the noise from the 22,674 in attendance drowned out his calls. In the back of his mind, though, Riggleman did not mind. Loading the bases for Dunn would guarantee Willingham would receive an at-bat before being removed for defensive purposes.

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