Washington Nationals beat Kansas City Royals for second straight win

Cristian Guzmán and the Nationals pounded the Royals for 11 hits.
Cristian Guzmán and the Nationals pounded the Royals for 11 hits. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

For the first time, the Washington Nationals can turn to Stephen Strasburg as a luxury rather than a necessity, as a staff ace instead of a team savior. They have already shed a demoralizing losing skid. Now the Nationals can entrust Strasburg to start a bonafide winning streak.

Maybe with Strasburg on the mound, the Nationals will finally manage to make things easy on themselves. Even in their 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals, a game they seemingly had locked up with a complete performance, the Nationals-- tightrope-walking closer Matt Capps, specifically -- put a lump in all 21,168 throats at Nationals Park.

They mashed 11 hits, including the 100th home run of Josh Willingham's career, and made no errors. Luis Atilano provided 5 1/3 splendid innings, and when a torrential rainstorm slashed his night short, the bullpen dominated -- until the final, harrowing moments. Capps, who could show up at a dance recital and find a way to get the tying run to the plate, surrendered two runs in the ninth before escaping with his 22nd save.

"The object is to get everybody out quickly," Capps said. "That doesn't always happen."

No, not always. Capps entered with a three-run lead. He loaded the bases in the ninth with one out, hard luck playing a role -- Yuniesky Betancourt reached on a 25-foot swinging bunt to load the bases. Capps, the MacGyver of the ninth inning, did not worry.

"The biggest thing to worry about," Capps said, "is getting the third out before they get the third run."

With two outs, one pitch from victory, Capps yielded a two-run single by Scott Podsednik. He still did not worry -- "He's a fighter," catcher Iván Rodríguez said. Jason Kendall came to the plate with two on and a chance to tie the game. Capps induced a pop-fly foul to first baseman Adam Kennedy. Simple as that, Capps had his league-leading 22nd save.

All those contributions -- every Nationals starting position player had either a hit or an RBI -- added up to this: The Nationals have a two-game winning streak and Strasburg will pitch Wednesday following a Nationals victory for the first time.

Fresh off a six-game skid, the Nationals, suddenly, have the makings of a potential hot streak. They'll hand the ball to Strasburg and then, after a day off, head to Baltimore for three games against the Orioles. The Nationals have not abandoned their wildest hopes.

"We need to put together a really good month," first baseman Adam Dunn said. "We haven't had a really good month yet. If we put together a good, solid run, we could make up ground quick."

Three of the Nationals' 11 hits were by Willingham, who added two doubles to go with his solo home run to lead off the fourth inning. Dunn mashed his 17th home run, a blast of at least 430 feet off the green wall behind the center field fence. The Nationals, coming off a four-hit night, had not totaled more than eight hits since June 13.

They used their breakout to take the lead, and then relied on their bullpen to hold it. On the night the team passed out "Clipp & Save" T-shirts to fans, the most consistent phase of the Nationals preserved a victory. Three relievers before Capps -- Joel Peralta, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard -- allowed no runs and only two base runners in 2 2/3 innings.

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