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SEA@WSH: Espinosa singles home Zimmerman in the first

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals did more than defeat the Mariners, 2-1, on Wednesday night at Nationals Park; Washington also reached the .500 mark for the first time since May 11.

The victory improved the club's record to 37-37, which marks the latest point in any season since 2005 that the Nationals have been at .500.

But don't think the Nats are satisfied about breaking even. They want to keep winning and prove the naysayers wrong.

"We are playing good and we need to continue to play good," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has watched the Nationals finish in last place five out of the last six years. "If we continue to play good, it will mean more at the end of the season."

The game was indicative of the way things have been going for the Nats of late -- which is to say well.

Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard outpitched Nationals left-hander John Lannan. Bedard went six innings and struck out 10 hitters. A month ago -- or the previous five years, for that matter -- the Nationals wouldn't have won a game like they did on Wednesday.

What's the difference between the 2011 Nationals and past outfits?

"We play good defense and we pitch well," Zimmerman said. "When you can do that, you have a chance to win the game. If you are within a run or two late in the game, you can always do something. ... We get that now. We understand defense and pitching are most important part of the game, and we have done very well at that this year."

Well enough to give Bedard his fifth loss of the season. The left-hander allowed two unearned runs in the game.

The Nationals took advantage of two miscues by Seattle. The first unearned run came in the first inning. With two outs and Zimmerman on first base, Michael Morse laced a hard-hit ground ball to third baseman Chone Figgins, who booted the ball for an error. Danny Espinosa followed with a single to center field to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Although he is hitting just .241 for the season, Espinosa is 18-for 53 (.340) with runners in scoring position. Espinosa acknowledged that he puts more pressure on his himself when there are runners on base.

"I just try to really lock in," Espinosa said. "I don't try to take any breaths or anything. I just lock in, and that's the time to hit. It's the fun time to hit, when guys are in scoring position. When you get guys in, it pumps the team up, whether you are up by a lot or down by a lot. It gets things rolling, and you get the team going on the right note."

The Mariners would eventually tie the score in the fourth inning off Lannan. After Justin Smoak doubled with two outs, catcher Miguel Olivo singled to right field to send Smoak home.

Washington would take the lead for good in the fourth inning. After Espinosa singled, he advanced all the way to third base on a wild pitch by Bedard and a throwing error by Olivo.

Two batters later, Jerry Hairston drove in Espinosa with a single to center to make it a 2-1 game.

"It seems like we were not doing the little things [earlier in the season]," reliever Sean Burnett said. "We weren't able to hang in there for that one-run game, but now everyone has that confidence."

Lannan needed 87 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings, but he pitched well enough to win his fifth game of the season, surrendering three hits and one run while striking out three. Lannan didn't allow a hit in the first three innings of the game, but ended up laboring to get into the sixth inning.

"No disrespect, I think we have to look at ourselves. I don't think it had anything to do with [Lannan]," Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "You face guys like [Justin] Verlander and find ways to put runs on the board. No disrespect to these guys, but [Bedard] is pitching his tail off and we have to do something. You can't just score one run off of -- you can't just score one run."

Once Lannan left the game, Washington's bullpen took over and blanked Seattle for the next 3 1/3 innings. The Mariners had a chance to tie the score in the seventh.

After Henry Rodriguez allowed a single to Dustin Ackley, the right-hander was taken out of the game in favor of Burnett, who allowed a single to Jack Cust to put runners on first and second.

Burnett had the tough task of facing Ichiro Suzuki. On a 1-2 pitch, however, Burnett struck Ichiro out.

"That was the last thing I was trying to do," Burnett said. "It was a good pitch, and maybe I'm starting to execute better."

Drew Storen pitched a perfect ninth for his 18th save to seal the deal. The Nationals remain five games behind the Braves in the Wild Card race.

"We want to win. We didn't want to be another team that loses," Espinosa said. "No one here wants to be on a losing team. All of us have the mindset that we are going try to do big things. As long as we stay with this mindset, it will be just fine."

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