SAN FRANCISCO -- Call it the greatest game in the brief history of the Nationals.
Ryan Church's three-run double in the top of the ninth inning helped the Nationals defeat the Giants, 11-8, in front of 40,220 fans at SBC Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Nationals were down, 8-7, when they began their four-run rally in the ninth. The Nationals manufactured the tying run off reliever Jeremy Accardo (0-1). Pinch-hitter Jeffery Hammonds started things off by drawing a walk and advanced to second base on a wild pitch.
Jose Guillen then advanced Hammonds to third by grounding out to second base. Brad Wilkerson then brought Hammonds home with a sacrifice fly.
Manager Frank Robinson felt the key to the run was Guillen giving himself up to advance the runner to third base.
"He changes his approach with two strikes. He hits according to the situation," Robinson said. "He's not up there trying to be the hero himself by hitting a home run or things like that. He felt like doing what the occasion calls for to win a ballgame. That was a big play. That goes unnoticed so much. They think so much about offense. Just a little thing like that, it changed the ballgame. It changed the way the Giants approached the game. I don't know too many hitters of his stature who would have done that."
"Guillen is slowly become the leader of this ballclub. This club has really taken on his attitude -- hard nose. 'Let's go out here and play nine innings of baseball.'"
Guillen said he wanted to show his teammates that there are other ways to win a ballgame.
"My approach was to hit the ball the other way. That shows a lot to a young player, that I care about winning. I care about my team," he said.
Guillen wasn't expecting to play in the game after injuring his left triceps, but after taking 10 swings in the batting cage, he felt like he could pinch-hit, which he did in the fourth inning.
The Nationals then poured it on later in the ninth. After Jamey Carroll singled and Nick Johnson walked, Giants manager Felipe Alou brought in former Expos reliever Jim Brower, and the Nationals showed how familiar they were with the right-hander.
Brower walked Vinny Castilla to load the bases, and Church took a 2-1 pitch and hit the ball down the left left-field line the clear the bases.
"I was sitting on the fastball. After the first two pitches, I looked up and they gave me the go-ahead to swing," Church said. "Brower threw a fastball that was away and up, and I fouled it off. I said, 'If they go out there again, I'm going to let the ball travel and hit it deep,' and it went the other way. It's like having a game plan and sticking with it."
Church ended up having his best game of his young career. He went 4-for-6 with a run scored and four RBIs. Overall, he raised his batting average from .222 to .267 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
"Things are starting to jell for me. I'm starting to get the hang of it. Everything is coming together at the right time. I always knew I could hit," Church said.
The winning pitcher was Luis Ayala (2-1), while Chad Cordero picked up his sixth save of the season. The Nationals raised their record to 17-13 and have won four out of their last five games.
With the victory, the Nationals are beginning to believe that they are becoming serious playoff contenders.
"I think we showed some teams and some scouts that we can play," Guillen said. "We really have a great team. We are hungry. We have some people that know how to play this game. I like when people say we are going to finish in last place. It gives us the motivation to show people that we are for real."
Robinson tried to duck the question and wanted opposing teams not to take the Nationals seriously.
"Let us continue to fly under the radar," Robinson said. "I want people to feel sorry for us. I really do. Look at us. We are a bunch of misfits, troublemakers, we come from all over the world, can't do much. We'll go out and do the best we can. Sometime the opponents throw us a crumb to win a ballgame."
The ninth inning was the second comeback of the game for the Nationals. The first came in the fourth. They came back from a 4-0 deficit and scored seven runs in the fourth inning.
John Patterson / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
The seven runs would have never scored without Robinson taking out starter John Patterson in the inning. With the bases loaded and none out, Robinson decided to take Patterson out of the game for Guillen, who singled in two runs off Jason Schmidt and made it a 4-2 game.
Wilkerson then made it a 4-3 game by hitting a sacrifice fly to score Endy Chavez. After Carroll walked, Johnson gave the Nationals a 5-4 lead by hitting a two-run double.
Church and Brian Schneider then drove in runs with singles.
The move Robinson made to take out Patterson never would have happened the last three years Robinson was managing the Expos. He would have allowed Patterson to hit in the fourth inning to allow the right-hander to pitch a few more innings.
There is a reason Robinson has made quick hooks on pitchers this year. He feels that he has better overall talent than he has had in the last three years.
"You manage by the personnel that you have," Robinson said. "I have different personnel that I can maneuver with. I try to take advantage of it and try to keep this ballclub going. I need to involve everybody also. Everyone is contributing so far and coming through."
Patterson said he was surprised that he was taken out of the game, but he realized that Robinson wanted the Nationals to get back into the game.
"I wasn't expecting it when it happened. I understood why he was doing it. It's just a little incentive to work on my hitting," Patterson said.
But the Nationals couldn't hold on to their 7-4 lead. Right-hander Zach Day, making his first relief appearance since 2002, had serious problems getting people out in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Giants scored four runs.
Mike Matheny highlighted the scoring by hitting a single off Hector Carrasco. The run was charged to Day.
But during the rest of the game, relievers Gary Majewski, Ayala and Cordero shut out the Giants during the next four innings.
Had the game gone into extra inning, Tomo Ohka, who pitched in Friday's game, would have pitched.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.