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Guzmán's Cycle Caps Nats' Sweep

Eighth-Inning Triple Leaves Shortstop, Teammates Giddy : Nationals 11, Dodgers 2

Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez hits a two-run home run off Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez hits a two-run home run off Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez) (Luis Alvarez - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008; Page E05

Nobody ever gets the triple. Finish a triple short of the cycle, and you might as well be a lottery ticket short of early retirement. The triple, after all, is the most elusive, don't-bet-on-it component of baseball's most balanced batting trick. And by the time Cristian Guzmán came to the plate in the eighth inning last night, one triple shy of a cycle, the game was already decided. It needed no further garnish.

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What happened during that at-bat, in the end, didn't just catalyze perhaps the most memorable night of Guzmán's career. The conversion of long odds also stood as a suitable microcosm for both this game -- Washington thumped the Los Angeles Dodgers, 11-2, at Nationals Park -- and the series it ended. The Nationals, too, pulled off a trifecta, sweeping the same team they couldn't beat just a month ago and battering a stable of pitchers who don't often allow such things.

Guzmán's triple last night, of course, claimed the focus. When he came to the plate for his final at-bat, facing left hander Joe Beimel, he had already homered, singled (getting thrown out, fortuitously, trying to take second), and doubled. At that moment, he had just three triples in 487 at-bats. Do the math. Those in the Nationals dugout -- everybody telling Guzmán to poke a ball into the gap -- were counting on laughable odds.

But as teammates kept mentioning the triple to Guzmán, he said one thing.

"Okay, I'm trying."

By that point, whatever Guzmán did at the plate had no bearing on the game. Guzmán's first hit, a solo home run in the first, had more importance. The Nationals already led 9-2, having reached a cruising point after falling behind early. John Lannan had overcome a shaky start by tightening the reins and lasting six innings -- allowing no runs in the final five. Elijah Dukes had belted two home runs, both with the kind of power that makes you think Los Angeles should start shifting its outfielders into the concrete walkways behind left field. Washington's entire team felt one of the truest highs of its season.

Indeed, within minutes, the Nationals would close out the game. The whiteboard in their clubhouse, scrawled with a black-erase pen, would boast of their three-game accomplishment.

LOWE -- Won 2-1, GOT HIM

MADDUX -- Got Em --> NEXT


Guzmán himself only started thinking about the final touch on this game when Los Angeles brought Beimel into the game. Guzmán, who'd struggled of late because of a left thumb injury, liked the matchup. With the count 1-2, Guzmán got a low, inside fastball and poked it deep into the left-center gap. It bounced several times and died against the wall. Washington's dugout erupted, everybody yelling: "Go three, go three!"

Guzmán went. He went like a sprinter.

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