By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009
In the coda of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, composer Johann Sebastian Bach repeats the same chord sequence over and over again, leading the listener to anticipate one resolution, only to provide a tone completely different.
The only tones emanating from Nationals Park in the top of the first inning Sunday afternoon were the faded drones of an audience that had heard this composition too many times this season -- game begins, visiting team assumes a lead, game ends in dreadful fashion. Arizona leadoff batter Trent Oeltjen looped a home run into the Washington bullpen in right field on the day's third pitch, and the familiar chord sequence began.
But lately the Nationals have taken observers by surprise, operating in a rhythm foreign to those who have followed professional baseball in the District for the past four months. And they did so again Sunday, quickly erasing an early deficit and pounding the Diamondbacks late for a 9-2 win, the team's eighth in a row.
"It's fun," said Ryan Zimmerman, who went 3 for 5 with three runs. "You're confident no matter what point in the game it is -- if you're down, if you're ahead. You know, it's a good feeling."
On the last of 25 straight days in which Washington has played a game, the Nationals reinforced the positive beat to which they now stride. Adam Dunn followed a Zimmerman double in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer. Josh Willingham succeeded Dunn with a double of his own.
In the span of eight pitches, Washington did to Arizona starter Yusmeiro Petit what no opposing team had done in Petit's previous 14 innings -- score a run. In Petit's most recent outing, he had entered the eighth inning with a no-hitter intact.
Petit took the mound Sunday with a confidence built on short-term recollection. But from an individual standpoint, the core batters in Washington's lineup could afford to reach a little further back in their memory banks for reassurance.
Zimmerman's double extended his hitting streak to 13 games, nearly three months after the third baseman compiled a 30-game hit streak. Dunn's bomb was his 30th of the season and it marked the sixth consecutive campaign in which he'd hit at least as many home runs.
"It was a very timely one," Dunn said of his two-run shot. "A good way to start the day."
The days have grown increasingly brighter for the Nationals since July 20, when they were 40 games under .500. The team then went through a 12-game stretch in which it won as many games as it lost.
On Aug. 2, Washington defeated Pittsburgh, 5-3, and a spike in performance ensued. The defense shed its Swiss cheese form. The bullpen shed its five-alarm fire identity. And the offense shed its proclivity to be, well, offensive. Entering Sunday, the Nationals were batting .309 with equally impressive on-base (.380) and slugging (.521) percentages in their previous 15 games.
Washington's bats continued their emergence against the Diamondbacks, though their task was made easier by a defiant performance from rookie starter J.D. Martin and the Nationals bullpen. Martin had allowed eight earned runs in his previous two outings combined, but he gave up just one run in five innings Sunday.
"A couple times [Martin] got out of trouble with his curveball and off-speed stuff," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He was teetering there a couple times and got the necessary outs, got a couple of guys to hit the ball off the end of the bat just enough to where we were able to make plays on balls."
Four innings later, the Nationals cemented their eighth straight victory, the second-longest winning streak in the team's history since coming to the District in 2005. That season, Washington at one point won 10 straight, a mark within realistic reach for a squad intent on straying from its season's predicted coda.
"Finally everyone just said, 'You know what, what do we have to lose? We can't play any worse than what we're playing,' " Dunn said. "I know offensively it's kind of the motto now is to see how many runs we can get. One day, I want [batting spots] one through eight to go 4 for 4 in the game. I want everyone to have four hits. That'd be awesome."