By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 12:49 AM
The chant began Friday night in the upper deck of Nationals Park, perhaps loud enough to reach the ears of the Washington Nationals' owners, definitely loud enough for Adam Dunn to hear down on the field, above the cheers spawned by a two-run single, the final act of his wrecking-ball performance. You could hear it high in the stands, clear as the starless night, over and over:
"Sign Adam Dunn!"
"Sign Adam Dunn!"
Dunn might play only five more games at Nationals Park as a member of the home team, a thought made more chilling for most fans by his three-hit, two-homer, five-RBI show that powered the Nationals' 8-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Before 22,515, Dunn provided the Nationals another taste of what they would miss if he left.
"I could hear a couple of them," Dunn said of the fans' chants. "That's cool. That kind of stuff doesn't happen very often. I'm glad it's happening to me, finally.
"It's starting to become home, you know what I'm saying? The way the fans have received me, it's . . . good. I don't know how else to put it."
Both Dunn and the Nationals publicly expressed a desire for Dunn to re-sign as far back as last winter. Their negotiations stalled, and now it seems likely Dunn will wade into free agency. But Dunn said last Sunday that even if he tests the waters he wants to remain in Washington and, buoyed by recent progress in negotiations, thinks that he will.
"You get attached to players and you appreciate what they do," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "That's just going to be something that will work itself out. Certainly, he continues to make a statement."
As Dunn's 36th and 37th home runs moved him four behind Albert Pujols for the National League lead, the Nationals surged to their first four-game winning streak of the season and dealt a blow to the postseason aspirations harbored by the Braves, who entered Friday night leading the wild-card race by a half-game.
Dunn had several accomplices. In the seventh inning, Willie Harris hit the second inside-the-park home run in Nationals history. In a dominating performance in his sixth start since returning from elbow ligament replacement surgery, Jordan Zimmermann hit 96 mph with a fastball and allowed one run on three hits in five innings to post his first win in 15 months. Tyler Clippard cleaned house for the sixth and seventh innings, retiring all six batters he faced and striking out four of them.
But the Nationals beat the Braves and toppled nemesis Tim Hudson thanks to Dunn's powerful bat. So what if his error in the eighth led directly to the Braves' second run and he struck out twice. Dunn does not offer perfection, just production.
In the second inning, he led off by launching Hudson's 1-0 sinker roughly 440 feet, halfway up the grassy berm beyond the fence. In the third, following Ian Desmond's single, Dunn reached down and golfed a splitter into the visitors bullpen beyond the left field fence.
In the sixth, with the Nationals leading 4-1, Braves Manager Bobby Cox summoned left-handed specialist Mike Dunn to face Adam Dunn with the bases loaded and two outs. This was the spot Adam Dunn wanted to come through.
"Homers, whatever," he said. "You got a really tough lefty out there."
He hooked a low fastball through the shift in right field, scoring two runners, giving the Nationals a six-run lead and giving himself five RBI for the night and 101 for the season.
After Dunn had won the game, Harris provided the night's most electric moment. Harris loves to play the Braves, mainly because he knows his grandmother, a Braves fan for 60 years, and his mother, Geraldine, will be watching on television at home in Cairo, Ga.
In the seventh, he drove a long fly to center field. Nate McLouth leaped at the fence, his glove just short of the ball, which bounded off the wall and back toward the infield. As Harris saw the ball trickling away he found a new gear, and slid home just before shortstop Alex Gonzalez's relay throw arrived. His knees on the plate, Harris pumped his fist. "Wow," he thought. "I made it."
Harris had never hit an inside-the-park homer at any level. He kept the ball, which he planned to give to Geraldine. The memory meant something, too.
"Dunner hits 40 a year," Harris said. "But he can't do that."
Dunn may or may not stay in Washington. After Friday night, he at least knows a lot of people would like for him to.
"Like I said all along, it's really good to feel wanted," Dunn said. "I mean, who doesn't want that feeling? You really can't put that kind of feeling into words. That's special."