By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 2:20 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- AT&T Park can feel spooky some nights, when fog rolls off San Francisco Bay, the moon glows in a starless sky and speakers ring out The Doors' "Light My Fire," the song Tim Lincecum chooses to blare when he throws his first warmup pitches. It's enough to make you think something odd might happen, the exact opposite of what you expect.
Strange days have found the Washington Nationals. On Wednesday night they opposed Lincecum, owner of two Cy Young Awards, with Luis Atilano, owner of six career starts. Against every available slice of logic, the Nationals thumped the San Francisco Giants, 7-3, before 30,233.
The Nationals broke their team-wide funk with a rookie starting against perhaps the best pitcher on the planet, and a team that has lost 205 games the past two years clawed back above by .500 in the middle of the most grueling portion of its schedule. The Reverse Lock came through.
"That's why we play the games, you know?" Manager Jim Riggleman said. "If you just figure this or that before the season starts, before a series starts, before a game starts, you're going to take a lot of things for granted. That's why you play the games."
The Nationals thrashed Lincecum for 4 2/3 innings, his shortest start since he went three innings on April 7, 2009. Washington smacked six hits, drew five walks and became the second team in the past three seasons to score six runs off Lincecum. The Giants' ace walked off the field in the middle of the fifth, an unfamiliar indignity, the final act of his first loss this season.
"He didn't much have much of curveball," said shortstop Ian Desmond, who went 2 for 4 with three RBI. "I've never seen him when he's filthy, but it didn't seem like he had his electric stuff tonight."
Meanwhile, Atilano induced a heap of harmless groundballs in 5 1/3 innings, surrendering four hits and two earned runs. He earned his fourth win -- the first Nats starter to pick up a 'W' since he did it May 10 -- and authored the Nationals' most improbable toppling of an opposing ace since Levale Speigner beat reigning Cy Young winner Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins in June 2007.
Atilano knew which pitcher he was facing, but he blocked it out of his thoughts. "I was only focused on my pitching," Atilano said. "I wasn't looking to that."
In his previous start, Atilano allowed six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.
"I was getting a little pissed off at myself," Atilano said. "The way I was pitching is not the way that I pitch."
Said Desmond: "I kind of expected Luis to come out and pitch good. It was about time for him to come out and really carve some people up."
One day after Todd Wellemeyer rendered their bats impotent, the Nationals reached base 11 times against Lincecum as he recorded 14 outs. In the third inning, Nyjer Morgan, a San Franciscan, belted the first hit against Lincecum, a line drive to left field.
The Nationals, once among league leaders in stolen bases, had not swiped one since May 10. But Lincecum had allowed eight successful steals without a runner being thrown out, more than any pitcher except knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, and Giants catcher Bengie Molina had thrown out just 3 of 30 base stealers. So Morgan swiped second, sliding in headfirst with time to spare. The Nationals would steal four bases against Lincecum before his truncated night ended.
"We were getting base runners," said second baseman Adam Kennedy, who stole twice. "I think getting base runners determines how much you run. When they're kind of allowing you to run, you've got to take advantage of it."
With Morgan on second, Kennedy flared a ball to center. Morgan hesitated to make sure the soft line drive found turf and not leather. Once he knew it would land, Morgan bolted to third base, where coach Pat Listach held his arms straight up and showed Morgan his palms -- stop. Morgan went.
Aaron Rowand's throw carried Molina a step up the third base line. Morgan dashed around the tag, stepped on the corner of home plate and barrel-rolled, nearly tumbling into Ryan Zimmerman on deck. Morgan's audacity may have placed him in temporary trouble with Listach, but it also gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
From there, Washington treated Lincecum like back-of-the-rotation fodder. With one out, Adam Dunn checked his swing and rolled an infield single toward shortstop. (Later, Dunn tripled, giving the lumbering slugger an infield hit and a three-bagger. It was that kind of night.) Josh Willingham doubled home Kennedy, and with two outs Ian Desmond poked a single to right field, scoring Dunn.
Lincecum dominated in a 1-2-3 fourth, but the Nationals raked him again in the fifth. Kennedy led off with a walk and stole second and third. After Zimmerman walked, too, Dunn drove in Kennedy with a sacrifice fly. With two outs, Desmond knocked Lincecum out of the game with a two-run bloop single down the right field line.
The Nationals had given Atilano a six-run lead. After consecutive rough outings, he vowed he would be better the next time. For one night, at least, he was good enough to do what no one expected he could.
"That's why you go out play the games," Willingham said. "You never know what's going to happen."