Without Strasburg buzz, Washington Nationals lean on bullpen to beat Pittsburgh Pirates

Adam Dunn greets Pirates starter Brad Lincoln with a two-run homer in the first. Lincoln was making his first big league start.
Adam Dunn greets Pirates starter Brad Lincoln with a two-run homer in the first. Lincoln was making his first big league start. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Normalcy struck the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night. The 200 swarming media members skipped town, the frenzied two-strike exhortations disappeared and the swaths of empty blue seats returned. The electricity of Strasmas yielded to the mundane of Game 60.

The buzz faded from Nationals Park, and 18,876 fans -- about 21,000 less than Tuesday night -- watched a compelling, if not historic, game. The Nationals weathered an uneven start by John Lannan and secured a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates when Ryan Zimmerman smoked the game-winning single off of reliever D.J. Carrasco.

The Nationals' bullpen -- Tyler Walker, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps -- pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings while allowing two hits to redeem Lannan's shortest start in a month. As Stephen Strasburg watched from the dugout -- a trip to appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" in the works -- the Nationals won their second straight game and ensured their first series victory since May 23.

"I think the big thing we're trying do is just show, hey, we're good every day, not once every five days," Storen said. "You just keep that intensity up. Just because there's not as many people here, you still do your job."

Zimmerman provided the difference in the seventh, when Cristian Guzmán led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nyjer Morgan. With one out, Zimmerman took a first-pitch curveball, then ripped a fastball back at Carrasco.

Zimmerman noticed second baseman Neil Walker shaded up the middle and figured he would field the grounder. Carrasco tried to jump out of the way, but the ball drilled his right shin and bounded into shallow right field. Third base coach Pat Listach wind-milled Guzmán home.

"You get lucky sometimes," Zimmerman said. "Those are the kind of breaks we haven't been getting lately."

Zimmerman only had a chance because of the Nationals' bullpen. Lannan's short start pressed Walker into service during a winnable game, a rarity -- the Nationals entered 4-16 in games which Walker pitched. On Wednesday, though, he allowed two walks and no hits in 1 1/3 innings, providing a crucial bridge to the best arms in the bullpen.

"He put us in position to win," Storen said. "He's a leader of the bullpen. A lot of people don't realize the things he does, especially for me, being a role model. Regardless of what he's doing between the lines, he's helping me out."

Said Walker, "You get your opportunity to get in the game, you've got to make the most it."

Storen pitched the seventh, allowing a single but inducing a double play. When Zimmerman singled, it put Storen in line for the win. So, one day after last year's first overall draft pick earned his first win, last year's 10th overall pick earned his second.

Clippard mowed through the eighth inning, his 11th straight appearance without allowing an earned run. Wil Nieves provided insurance with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly, and Capps continued to reassert himself in the ninth, saving his second consecutive game after three brutal outings. His 20 saves still lead the league.

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