WASHINGTON (AP)—A fifth consecutive home crowd of more than 30,000, a fifth consecutive victory. They might be in last place and their roster might be headed for a trade-deadline overhaul, but the Washington Nationals are suddenly streaking.
Rookie Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns combined to drive in all of Washington’s runs, including two in a ninth-inning rally against San Francisco closer Armando Benitez, and the Nationals edged the Giants 4-3 Wednesday night.
The bigger crowds are “creating some excitement,” said outfielder Ryan Church, who had two hits for the second straight game. “They’re like our 10th man out there, and you kind of get the feeling like last year. They’re pulling for us, and we’re getting those comeback wins.”
The Giants led 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth despite another quiet night from Barry Bonds, who went 0-for-2 with two walks and left the game in the middle of the final inning because of a mild hamstring strain.
“We took him out as a precaution,” manager Felipe Alou said. “I don’t think he’ll play (Thursday), either way.”
Benitez entered in the ninth in search of his 14th save. Instead, the right-hander blew a save for the sixth time this season; the Giants had been 40-4 when leading after eight innings.
Benitez (4-2) walked Robert Fick, and, after striking out Alfonso Soriano, gave up an infield single to Felipe Lopez on a hard shot that bounced off second baseman Ray Durham. Zimmerman followed with an RBI single that tied the game— his third hit of the night and NL-leading 42nd hit of the season with runners in scoring position.
“He is doing some awful good things this year with this ballclub,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Just right in front of our eyes, each at-bat, each week, each ballgame, he just seems to mature and get better as he goes along.”
Benitez then walked Nick Johnson to fill the bases and bring up Kearns, who’s been adjusting to life with his new team since this month’s eight-player trade that brought him and Lopez to Washington from Cincinnati. Kearns hit a sacrifice fly to left to drive in the winning run.
“He’s a good clutch guy,” Lopez said. “He comes through.”
Benitez thought he pitched well enough to get out of the ninth: From his standpoint, he managed to induce both Lopez and Zimmerman to hit grounders.
“I did my job,” Benitez said.
Perhaps, but so did Zimmerman, Kearns and a lineup that produced 12 hits and is coming up with key hits that were so hard to come by earlier this season. Even earlier in the game: Washington left the bases loaded in the seventh, when both Zimmerman and Kearns popped up to strand runners.
“It was nice to be able to have another chance at it,” Zimmerman said.
The comeback gave Saul Rivera (1-0) his first major league victory. He was Washington’s fourth reliever, and threw a perfect ninth.
Randy Winn’s two-run single in the seventh had put San Francisco ahead. Washington starter Pedro Astacio was charged with three runs—two earned—and six hits. The right-hander took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, but Todd Greene reached on second baseman Marlon Anderson’s fielding error, and pinch-hitter Todd Linden doubled to right. Reliever Mike Stanton came on, and gave up Winn’s hit.
Bonds is 0-for-6 in the series and 2-for-12 without a home run over his last five games, leaving him stuck on 722 homers, 33 behind career leader Hank Aaron. Bonds wasn’t booed quite as much as during Tuesday night’s series opener, but he still heard jeers, including after a running catch in left of Church’s sinking liner in the fourth.
The Giants have lost three consecutive games to fall from first place in the NL West to third, three games behind division leader San Diego.
“Sometimes little things happen here and there, but I still think we are all on the same page,” said starter Noah Lowry, who gave up two unearned runs in six innings, “and I still like our chances in this division.”
Giants SS Omar Vizquel left in the fifth inning after fouling a ball off his right foot. The team said X-rays showed no break, and he was listed as day-to-day. … Giants RHP Matt Morris’ right forearm felt stiff Wednesday, a day after it was hit by a line drive, but he anticipates making his scheduled start Sunday at Pittsburgh.