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Washington Nationals defeat Chicago Cubs, 3-2, behind rookie Luis Atilano

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Luis Atilano reacts after getting out of a jam during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Luis Atilano reacts after getting out of a jam during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Charles Rex Arbogast - AP)

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By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010

CHICAGO -- Loud music and silver Elvis wigs have become routine for the Washington Nationals. In the past, the spoils of winning had been reserved for the opposing clubhouse, but April has proved that the Nationals have charted a refreshing new course.

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After Washington's 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, the Nationals' players and coaches packed up, and along with their suitcases and bat bags, they carried with them the confidence and vitality that comes with a winning month to open the 2010 season.

Washington (12-10) has not had a winning record in a month since September 2007. The Nationals, in third place in the National League East, travel to Florida to play the Marlins in a three-game series starting on Friday, their final game of April.

"It's just contagious; winning creates more winning," relief pitcher Tyler Clippard said. "Right now we're getting a taste of that. I know we're all pleased with that, and hopefully we can continue to do that."

On Wednesday, the Nationals received another solid performance from a bullpen that has a 0.77 ERA in the last eight games, and they hit two home runs to win their second in a row against the Cubs (10-12) before a crowd of 36,660.

"Everybody wants the ball in their hand," Clippard said. "Everybody wants to make the next great play. Everyone wants to make the next big hit."

Washington rookie Luis Atilano, making his second career start, kept damage off the scoreboard after giving up a run apiece in the first and second innings. It was another quality start for the Nationals, who have produced 10 of them in their last 13 games.

In six innings, Atilano allowed just two runs and six hits, with three walks and one strikeout.

Atilano (2-0) relied on a nice mix of his breaking and off-speed pitches, but Chicago's hitters swung freely. The Cubs stranded eight runners against Atilano, who was backed into tough spots at times, including a bases-loaded jam he successfully navigated in the fifth inning.

"I'm excited, happy about it," said Atilano, who had the silver Elvis wig in his locker as the Nationals' player of the game. "Can't ask for anything better."

Cubs starter Ryan Dempster allowed three runs and four hits over eight innings, retiring 12 batters in a row in the middle innings. Dempster (2-1) only made a few mistakes, and the Nationals bashed home runs in the first and fourth innings.

Adam Kennedy hit a first-inning home run, turning quickly on a belt-high, 2-0 fastball, which he deposited in the left field bleachers. In the fourth, Adam Dunn lifted a solo shot for the game-winning run, lashing a 3-1 fastball deep over the fence in left field.

Dunn has hit 25 home runs in 241 at-bats at Wrigley Field. His home run total in Chicago is his second-best output at a single venue, behind Great American Ball Park, where he played six of his eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. He said Wrigley Field was his favorite place to play, saying he sees the ball well here and enjoys its hallowed grounds.

As for the Nationals, Dunn acknowledged the truth about their hot start, which includes 13 games against teams that were in the 2009 playoffs. "I know what we're capable of, but it's so early," he said. "The positive thing is we still don't have our 'A' lineup out there."

Washington's roster has been thinned by nagging ailments, including Ryan Zimmerman's sore right hamstring, which kept him out of the lineup Wednesday for a seventh consecutive game. Also banged up are utility man Willie Harris, who has a bone bruise on his right knee, and catcher Iván Rodríguez, who has experienced tightness in his back.

When asked to examine at the bigger picture, Manager Jim Riggleman did not allow himself to look to Washington's recent 100-loss past or perhaps to its promising future. He stays in the here and now.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not even aware we have a winning month at this point," Riggleman said. "That would be a nice steppingstone, but we're just trying to win each ball game."

But the wins are starting to add up, and these Nationals have a whole different outlook.

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