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Pudge caps late rally with walk-off single

Pudge caps late rally with walk-off single

WASHINGTON -- Rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg made his sixth Major League start on Saturday afternoon and had the shortest stint of his fledgling career. However, he picked up a no-decision as the Nationals defeated the Mets, 6-5, thanks to a game-winning hit by Ivan Rodriguez.

Washington was down, 5-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning against closer Francisco Rodriguez. With the bases loaded and one out, Adam Dunn hit a 2-1 pitch off the top of the center-field fence. Suddenly, there was mass confusion. Cristian Guzman was near home plate when the ball hit the fence, but -- not realizing that the ball wasn't caught -- he decided to go back to third and tag up.

As Guzman touched third, Willie Harris, who was on second, almost passed Guzman. They came very close to running into each other. Fortunately for Washington, both Guzman and Harris scored on the play.

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"I don't know what he was doing," third-base coach Pat Listach said about Guzman. "I guess he was going to tag up. They came real close of each other. It was one of those things where Guzzie was going to score easily. After Willie slowed down at third, it became a close play. I've seen guys pass each other dozens of times. That a heads-up play by Willie."

Seconds later, the Nationals claimed that Dunn hit a grand slam, but the umpires reviewed the play and the call stood.

Dunn didn't think he hit the ball good enough for a homer. In fact, he hit the ball off the end of the bat.

"I wasn't sure what kind of pitch Rodriguez was going to throw me," Dunn said. "He has a really good changeup and a really good slider. In that situation, I really wasn't sure what he was going to throw me. I just saw it and put a swing on it. This ballpark is so weird in that area. Sometimes, the ball goes. Sometimes, it doesn't. You never really know when you hit to center."

After Josh Willingham was walked intentionally, Rodriguez singled to right field to score Ryan Zimmerman with the winning run.

"It was a pretty good pitch. I'm a low-ball hitter and I thought the pitch was great for me to hit. I was lucky enough to hit it over first base," Rodriguez said.

Francisco Rodriguez was not happy with his performance after the game.

"That's the ... worst performance I've ever had in my entire life," Rodriguez said. "I should be ashamed of myself. I'm so embarrassed. I just want to apologize to the fans who were watching that. I know better than that."

The victory improved Washington's record to 36-46 and it was also their first victory since Sept. 30, 2009 -- also against the Mets -- when trailing after eight innings.

"The victory was very special," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "We were down the whole day, but kept the game in range. We were really battling out there."

Strasburg lasted five innings, allowed two runs on four hits, struck out five and walked three. He got off to a slow start in the first, throwing 37 pitches and walking three. One of those players who walked -- Alex Cora -- scored on a double by Jason Bay.

However, Strasburg settled down in the next frame, retiring the side in order and throwing just 11 pitches. He picked up two strikeouts in the frame.

In the third, Strasburg found himself in trouble again, allowing an RBI single to Josh Thole. Strasburg threw 26 pitches in the inning.

In his last two innings, Strasburg threw a combined 22 pitches and retired six straight.

"Stras was really battling out there. It's really a credit to him to kind of right himself a little bit with some pitches and keep us in the game," Riggleman said. "He gave up [only] one run in two separate innings. That's huge.

"The win was special because it was against a very good ballclub and against their closer, who is outstanding. I'm very proud of our ballclub."

Strasburg talked as if he had his worst outing of the season. He said he was working too fast on the mound and needed to slow things down.

"It going to be one of those days, where you are trying to do too much," Strasburg said "I was able to settle in after the first inning. It wasn't one of the greatest performances, but the guys came through today. Let me tell you, that was an awesome win."

Despite the less than stellar performance from Strasburg, Bay and right-hander R.A. Dickey came away impressed with what they saw from Strasburg.

"It was kind of anticlimactic," Dickey said. "Not that he's not good -- he's very good. But I felt like the ball was going to be invisible. It was nice when I got up there and actually saw it. I know I struck out just because I was a pitcher. He threw me a breaking ball I thought was going to hit me in the mouth and it was a strike. But I saw it."

Said Bay: "He probably didn't have his best stuff and we still only got two runs, which says a lot."

The Nats tied the score at 2 against Dickey in the sixth. Willingham and Rodriguez had RBI hits. Both runs were unearned because of an error by shortstop Ruben Tejada.

It looked like the Mets had put the game out of reach in the eighth off reliever Tyler Clippard. Cora came home on a single by David Wright, who later scored on a double by Thole. Two batters later, Thole came home on a sacrifice fly by Tejada.

But instead of losing eight out of their past 10, the Nationals have now won two of three games against the Mets and will go for the series win Sunday afternoon on the Fourth of July.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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