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Nats survive in Arizona

Nats survive in Arizona
The ball jumped off Josh Whitesell's bat, made a beeline for shallow right field and had everyone at Chase Field thinking the same thing.

Base hit. Two runs. Diamondbacks lead.

Austin Kearns and Jesus Flores had other ideas, and thanks to one spectacular defensive play, the Washington Nationals emerged Saturday night with a 2-1 victory against Arizona.

Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman certainly helped make this win possible. Each crushed solo homers, with Zimmerman's eighth-inning blast extending his major league-best hitting streak to 27 games.

And the Washington pitching staff, from starter John Lannan right through the six relievers who finished off this victory, obviously deserves some credit as well.

But the play that had the crowd of 27,233 buzzing and the Nationals clubhouse bouncing afterward was the seventh-inning gem from Kearns and Flores that turned what could have been a two-run single into a spectacular 9-2 forceout.

The situation: bases loaded, one out, Washington leading 1-0. Whitesell hit a sharp, sinking liner to right, and Kearns came charging in and to his left to try to catch it. Realizing he had no chance, Kearns instead played the ball on a short hop and immediately fired a one-hop strike to the plate.

Former Nationals infielder Felipe Lopez, standing on third at the time, bolted home and slid just as Flores caught the ball. The catcher had to do his best impersonation of a first baseman, stretching as far as his legs would allow to snare the ball while keeping the tip of his right toe on the plate.

Umpire Paul Emmel gave the out signal, the crowd booed, Lopez argued and the Nationals celebrated a remarkable play.

That was just one of several big moments in Washington's fifth win in six games. Zimmerman extended his hit streak in dramatic fashion with 422-foot homer to center field in his final at-bat, then made a dazzling defensive play of his own in the bottom of the eighth to keep the Diamondbacks scoreless.

Zimmerman was bested in the power department only by Dunn, whose latest impressive homer came in the second inning, when he crushed a 3-2 fastball from Doug Davis and sent it soaring toward left-center field. The ball struck the bottom left corner of the gigantic scoreboard, some 30 feet above the 413-foot sign at the base of the fence.

Though the distance of the solo shot was inexplicably announced as 419 feet - it was later changed to 442 feet - the more pertinent fact was that it gave Washington a 1-0 lead.

That run loomed large all evening because both teams had a devil of a time bringing home runners despite countless opportunities and numerous misplays by Dunn at first base.

Never regarded as a defensive whiz, Dunn is even less gifted in the infield than he is in the outfield. Still, manager Manny Acta has put him at first base four times this season to give Nick Johnson a breather even if the results aren't aesthetically pleasing.

Dunn had at least three questionable plays in the field Saturday night. Two were scored errors. One could have been ruled as two errors, both for booting a grounder and then throwing it away.

Somehow, Dunn managed to get through seven innings without committing a mistake that directly led to a run before handing off to Johnson. For that, he can thank Lannan, who put himself in plenty of jams but kept pitching his way out of them.

The left-hander, who relies on pinpoint control, uncharacteristically issued six walks in six innings, equaling the combined total from his last six starts. But he got outs when he needed to, whether coaxing Josh Wilson into a comebacker with runners on the corners or getting Whitesell to hit into a double-play grounder with the bases loaded.

Thus Lannan (2-3) departed for a pinch hitter in the seventh, the Nationals still leading 1-0 and the young lefty watching with everyone else with anticipation to see if his bullpen could close out another win.

It took six relievers - Garrett Mock, Ron Villone, Logan Kensing, Joe Beimel, Kip Wells and Joel Hanrahan - to do it, but that beleaguered group got the necessary nine outs to finish off an impressive victory.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 11, 2009

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