By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010; D01
Just back from their first prolonged road trip of the season, and not a prosperous one at that, the Washington Nationals figured to embrace their homecoming with all the delight of a team that had grown weary of traveling to three cities over nine days.
It took a bit longer than perhaps they would have liked, but the Nationals indeed were able to celebrate being back in the nation's capital -- not to mention ending a five-game skid -- after a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets thanks to a three-run outburst in the seventh inning that put them ahead for good. It also was a promising start to five consecutive home games before Washington departs for the West Coast next week.
"It just shows our character," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said of the win that came one day after arriving back into town. "We got a great group of guys here. We know we got a good team here, and we're not running on full cylinders yet, but we know that we can play with anybody in the league."
Before the decisive inning, an oddity occurred that might have had baseball historians scrambling for the record books. Mets center fielder Angel Pagán hit an inside-the-park-homer in the fourth inning, then started a triple play in the fifth.
The last time a team had an inside-the-park homer and a triple play in one game was Sept. 25, 1955, when the Philadelphia Phillies did so against the New York Giants. In that game, Phillies infielder Ted Kazanski hit the inside-the-park home run and began the triple play, as Pagán did Wednesday for the Mets (19-22).
The Nationals (21-20) went ahead for good when Adam Kennedy's pinch-hit sacrifice fly to center brought home Roger Bernadina for a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Washington added to that with an RBI triple from Cristian Guzmán followed by an RBI single from Ryan Zimmerman in its first home game since May 9.
Pagán's homer accounted for the first run of the game. He drove the ball over the head of Morgan and easily beat the throw home for his second homer of that variety and the first ever in Nationals Park.
In the Nationals' half of the fifth, with runners on first and second, Pagán made a shoestring catch on Guzmán's bloop into shallow center, then lobbed the ball casually back into the infield. Starting pitcher Liván Hernández, working on three days' rest, and Morgan were on base, unaware Pagán had secured the ball for the out, and advanced.
That's when catcher Henry Blanco picked up the ball by the pitcher's mound and threw to shortstop José Reyes at second. Reyes threw to first base to complete the rare feat that umpires had to discuss before confirming.
The Nationals, meantime, were more concerned about righting themselves after going 3-6 on their most recent road trip, which ended with a 3-2 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday. The defeat was all the more disappointing because of the demoralizing way in which it unfolded, with normally reliable reliever Tyler Clippard surrendering what would be the game-winning homer to Ryan Ludwick in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Clippard rebounded resoundingly against the Mets, retiring the side in the eighth, striking out the final batter swinging.
The Nationals also had been searching for ways to extricate themselves from a minor scoring slump, with just 10 runs over their previous five games entering Wednesday. Washington averaged just 1.7 runs in the final three games of its latest trip.
The drought had been particularly frustrating considering the Nationals scored a season-high 14 runs on May 13 to open their series in Colorado.
"It's big," Kennedy said of the Nationals ending their losing streak with aggressive at-bats. "Like I said, good teams don't let that bother them, and it hasn't bothered us. We still played the game right. We just haven't been hitting. Teams do that. It wasn't like we were playing bad baseball."
The Nationals certainly got back on track offensively upon their return home, with their highest run total in six games.
They collected eight hits and walked six times to back Hernández (6 1/3 innings, four hits, two earned runs) and the bullpen, including Drew Storen.
The recent call-up from Class AAA Syracuse came in for Hernández with one out in the seventh, the score tied at 2 and a runner on second.
With the outcome perhaps in the balance, Storen got Reyes to lineout and Luis Castillo to groundout to secure his first big league win.
"It's hard to describe," Storen said. "Just happy to get in there. Feel bad taking that win from Livo after what a good game he threw."
Matt Capps came on the ninth for his 15th save in as many chances despite giving up a homer to Fernando Tatis, and the Nationals improved to 5-2 this season against the Mets.
"The energy in our dugout was great before the game, during the game," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said. "Everything was great."