WASHINGTON (AP)—Elijah Dukes, born 13 years after the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers, was concerned with more recent history when the team that jilted the nation’s capital finally returned.
A 1-for-26 start as a member of the Washington Nationals shadowed Dukes for weeks until he slowly began to justify the faith the team has placed in him. His 5-for-6 performance Friday night—including the tying home run in eighth inning and the winning RBI in the 14th—was a suitable exclamation point in a 4-3 marathon victory over the Rangers.
“It’s really not that impressive to me because I should have been doing it,” said Dukes, whose average has risen from .038 to .270. “I commend myself because I did what it takes to get better, and that was get in early and hit in the cage. When you know what you can do, there’s no need to press. I knew I was a better hitter. It was just a matter of time for me to wake up and start hitting the ball.”
Dukes’ five hits were a career-high, and he also had two stolen bases, two runs and two RBIs. Considering his numerous off-the-field troubles before joining the Nationals—not to mention a recent shouting match in the dugout with manager Manny Acta—he had to come a long way to earn the celebratory mob scene around him after his single off Jamey Wright (4-3) found a hole on the left side of the infield to score Felipe Lopez from third.
“Elijah, I can’t say anything bad about the guy,” said Nationals starter Tim Redding, who allowed three runs and five hits over six innings in his sixth consecutive no-decision. “Everybody knows the baggage he’s had coming into this season, but he is by far unquestionably one of the best ballplayers we have in this clubhouse talent-wise, effort-wise, on the field.”
Dukes’ big day spoiled the long-awaited return appearance for the franchise moved by owner Bob Short from Washington to Texas after the 1971 season. The Senators’ final game was ruled a forfeit after angry fans invaded the field and tore up the turf in the ninth inning at RFK Stadium. Washington went without baseball for more than three decades until the Montreal Expos relocated in 2005.
While the 1971 finale ended early, this one ran late, the longest so far in the brief history of Nationals Park. Fans were treated to a 14th-inning stretch and a bonus edition of the Presidents’ Race, the goofy promotion that features four versions of the chief executives on Mount Rushmore racing each other with oversized heads. A post-game fireworks show was canceled for fear it would bother the neighbors at such a late hour.
“I guess if it wasn’t for Elijah Dukes, it would have been an easy game for us,” said Texas starter Kevin Millwood, who pitched eight innings—his longest outing since early April—and allowed seven hits and three runs. “I couldn’t get him out.”
Wright, the fifth Texas pitcher, began the 14th with a strikeout, but he then hit Lopez in the foot with a pitch. He got into more trouble by walking pinch hitter Paul Lo Duca and Ryan Langerhans to load the bases. Cristian Guzman struck out, but Dukes came through with the game-winning hit that again sank the Rangers below .500.
Joel Hanrahan (3-2), the sixth Washington pitcher, threw two innings. Nationals pitchers allowed only one hit over the final 10 2-3 innings.
The Rangers took the early lead with a three-run second inning in which one silly mistake topped another. Marlon Byrd stopped running between third and home when he would have easily scored on a double by Gerald Laird. Byrd didn’t even force a throw as he was tagged out by first baseman Dmitri Young.
The play should have bailed the Nationals out of the inning. With two outs and no runs in, Redding intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Ramon Vazquez so he could face Millwood, who hasn’t had a hit since 2004. But Redding walked Millwood to load the bases, setting up Ian Kinsler’s bases-clearing double off the right field wall.
Millwood hit a wild spell in the third, walking back-to-back batters with two outs before allowing Jesus Flores’ two-run single. The Nationals were on the board, but the play included another mental mistake: Young, who had been on first, strayed too far after rounding second and was tagged without making much of an effort to get back.
The score remained 3-2 until Dukes tied the game with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the eighth, hitting Millwood’s first pitch just over the left-field wall and into the Rangers’ bullpen.
Laird pulled his right hamstring while beating out a bunt single in the fourth inning and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. C Max Ramirez was recalled from Double-A Frisco. … Texas OF Milton Bradley, out of the starting lineup for the third straight game with to a strained left quadriceps, appeared as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning and grounded out to second base. … Guzman went 0-for-7, ending a 12-game hitting streak … The Rangers are 3-15 when playing with a .500 record this season. … Aaron Boone was late scratch from Washington’s starting lineup because of a sore left knee, but he struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh. … The Nationals played a scoreboard tribute to “Meet the Press” host and season ticket holder Tim Russert, who died last week.