08/26/08 11:44 PM ET
Early lead, a little luck give Nats victory
Washington pitchers in and out of trouble as Balester earns win
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
The last time Washington faced right-hander Derek Lowe prior to Tuesday was on June 29 at Dodgers Stadium. Lowe had his way with Washington, giving up one hit in eight shutout innings.
Lowe had another quality start against the Nationals on Tuesday, but they were able to score two runs off him in eight innings and that proved to be enough. The scoring started early for Washington, when Lastings Milledge led off the second inning with a solo home run over the left-center-field wall.
"That's what I was looking for the whole day -- something out and over the plate and try to hit it up the middle. He came to my high spot and I was able to do some damage with it," Milledge said.
In the next inning, Cristian Guzman drove in the second run with a single to left field to score Emilio Bonifacio.
"We took advantage of the few pitches he left up in the zone," Nationals manager Manny Acta said of Lowe. "He was tough. He was throwing that two-seamer that was back-dooring the righties. [He was] getting called strikes."
Nationals right-hander Collin Balester won his third game of the season by giving up a run in five-plus innings. He started to lose it, however, in the fifth inning, as he hit Nomar Garciaparra and Casey Blake with pitches and walked Lowe to load the bases, but Balester was able to limit the damage.
Matt Kemp hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who tagged third. Zimmerman then threw a perfect strike to catcher Jesus Flores, whose foot was on home plate, but Flores forgot that he needed to tag Garciaparra. Garciaparra managed to touch home plate without a tag. It turns out that Flores didn't realize that Zimmerman touched third base first.
Andre Ethier followed and flew out to center field and Jeff Kent grounded out to Zimmerman to end the inning.
The Nationals found themselves in trouble again in the next inning with Balester on the mound. After giving up a double to Manny Ramirez and a single to James Loney, Balester was taken out of the game.
"The first three innings, I thought he had better command, but he lost his command later on," Acta said. "I thought he was all over the place in the last two innings. Even when he was getting some guys out, he was missing his location badly."
Said Balester about his outing, "I got myself into trouble with my control, but was able to make pitches when I needed to. I would like to go deeper in the game. When I needed to make the pitch, I thought I made the pitch tonight."
Right-hander Marco Estrada entered the game and found himself in a worse jam. Russell Martin hit a slow roller to Zimmerman at third base. Zimmerman threw the ball on the run and tried to get the forceout at second. The bases ended up being loaded because Bonifacio couldn't handle the poor throw. But luck would be on the Nationals' side.
Garciaparra came up and hit a liner right at Zimmerman, who was able to double up Ramirez at third. After Blake was walked intentionally, Lowe came to the plate and struck out swinging.
Three innings later, Joel Hanrahan saved his fifth game of the season, but it didn't come easy. With one out, he gave up a single to Blake and walked Mark Sweeney. Hanrahan was then behind in the count, 3-1, to Kemp.
"I was trying to be a little too careful, not trusting my pitches," Hanrahan said. "A situation like that, you don't want to make a mistake. I was trying too hard not to make a mistake."
Kemp finished the at-bat by flying out to Milledge in center field for the second out.
Hanrahan had an easier time with Ethier. On a 2-1 pitch, Either grounded out to first baseman Ronnie Belliard to end the game. It was the Nationals' first win at home since Aug. 3 against the Reds.
"Joel was a little divorced from the strike zone. When you have just good stuff like he does, he can get away with it once in a while," Acta said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.