08/31/08 7:05 PM ET
Boone sends Nationals to sweep
Washington getting clutch hits during six-game win streak
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Washington was down, 4-3, when it took the lead off losing pitcher Elmer Dessens in the eighth. After Ryan Zimmerman singled and Elijah Dukes walked, the bunt sign was on for Boone to advance the runners. On the first pitch, Boone fouled the ball off.
Nationals manager Manny Acta took the bunt sign off and allowed Boone to swing away. It paid off, as Boone hit the next pitch -- a fastball -- into the left-field bullpen for a three-run homer. It was Boone's sixth dinger of the season.
"I wasn't sure if [Acta] was going to have the sign on again or not," Boone said. "When he took it off, I told myself to really stay aggressive. With them thinking I was still bunting, he just wanted to get a good pitch on me. I got a good one right there and hit the ball."
In limited action, Boone has been productive, hitting .254 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 84 games. But it's more than his play off the bench that has made him a valuable player.
"He is not only productive on the field, but he is very productive in the clubhouse," Acta said. "He is a high-character guy with experience. He has been in winning situations with the Yankees, Indians and Reds. He has great sense of humor. He is one of those guys you really want to have around for those younger guys."
Boone wasn't the only one who did damage in the eighth inning. Three batters after Boone's homer, Wil Nieves added to the lead with an RBI single to left that scored Emilio Bonifacio. Left-hander Will Ohman entered the game and gave up an RBI single to Cristian Guzman. The run was charged to Dessens.
"I didn't make any good pitches today to help the team, and it cost us the game," said Dessens, who signed with the Braves last week after playing most of the season with the Mexico City Red Devils in the Mexican League.
Nationals right-hander Collin Balester said recently that he wanted to go deeper into games. He did just that on Sunday, but he received a no-decision.
It was as if Balester pitched two games on Sunday. In the first four innings, he had a tough time with his location and paid for it by giving up four runs. In fact, the biggest hit for the Braves came in the fourth. After Martin Prado walked and Omar Infante singled, Yunel Escobar hit a 1-0 pitch for a three-run homer over the left-field wall to give Atlanta a 4-2 lead.
But Balester settled down after that, retiring eight straight batters en route to a career-high seven innings.
"Before I gave up that home run, I was aiming the ball a little bit," Balester said. "After the home run, I said I needed to go back to throwing the ball like I always do -- driving it toward home plate. Even when I missed a little bit, they just popped it up. I was able to get my curveball sharper. From the first three [innings] to the last four, it was a night-and-day difference in how I felt."
The Nationals made it a one-run game in the bottom of the inning, when Willie Harris hit an RBI single off Braves starter Jair Jurrjens.
Jurrjens lasted six innings and gave up three runs on five hits. He struck out seven batters and walked three. Acta credited outfielder Ryan Langerhans for getting Jurrjens' pitch count up. In his last at-bat against Jurrjens, Langerhans struck out in the sixth, but it took 10 pitches to do it.
"I tried to battle him and work him. There were several guys that did," Langerhans said. "Even if he gets you out, you can work him real hard. He's liable to make a mistake on the next guy."
Washington has won six straight games, eight of its past 10 and improved its record to 52-85. For most of the season, the Nationals have found a way to lose games. Now, it doesn't matter how far they are down, as the team has found a way to get big hits during the current homestand.
"It has been a great homestand. A lot of it has to do with our defense and the way our guys have swung the bats this whole series," Acta said. "It's also great because we are doing it at home. It has been a long season for our fans. They deserve to see our club win here. It's always nice to come to the ballpark and go home after a win."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.