Nationals cruise to victory in finale

Hernandez, Nats cruise to victory in finale

BALTIMORE -- The Nationals finally received some timely hitting and solid pitching at the same time as they pounded the Orioles, 9-5, in front of 27,680 fans at Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon.

But it was a selfless act by left fielder Alfonso Soriano that woke up the bench and ignited the offense.

In the third inning, Marlon Byrd led off with a double off right-hander Daniel Cabrera. Soriano then came to the plate in an 8-for-52 (.154) slump. Realizing his problems with the bat and that the team scored just 11 runs in the last five games, Soriano decided to bunt for a base hit. If he didn't do that, at least he'd advance Byrd to third. Soriano did just that, as he bunted to Cabrera, who threw to first baseman Jeff Conine for the first out of the inning.

"I was struggling at home plate. We had some problems scoring runs. It was a good opportunity for me to put the runner in scoring position. I thought it was a good play, myself," Soriano said.

The Nationals were taken by surprise, because Soriano is known for hitting home runs and driving in runs.

"You are not expecting it, you know. This guy has 25 home runs and 50-something RBIs," said designated hitter Daryle Ward. "You know he's leading off, but he's not your typical leadoff guy where he's bunting guys over. I think it changed everybody's outlook. It was like, 'Wow, this guy just laid down a bunt to get the guy over. It changes everything. Not only is he a superstar, but he cares about winning."

Manager Frank Robinson was pleased to see one of his players do the little things to win a ballgame.

"That picked the players up more than anything else -- Soriano's willingness to do that. That's what it takes, doing the little things, and I think that kind of set the tone for the day. He did it on his own, and that made it even more impressive," Robinson said.

Advancing the runner paid off because Byrd scored on a Cabrera wild pitch with Jose Vidro at the plate. Later in the inning, Ward gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead when he singled to right to drive in Nick Johnson.

Right-hander Livan Hernandez broke a personal three-game losing streak by being solid the first six innings of the game, allowing just one run. However, Hernandez didn't retire any of the four batters he faced in the seventh inning, giving up two runs. That forced Robinson to take Hernandez out of the game in favor of left-hander Bill Bray, who stopped the bleeding by retiring the side in order.

The difference between Hernandez's outing and the one against the Red Sox on June 20, in which he gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings, was that his velocity on his fastball went up as high as 87 mph. In the Red Sox game, Hernandez's fastball was maxed out around 82 mph.

"I just thought that the velocity was back to where it was when he was using the lower half [of his body]," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "When he is at 86, 87, there is a big difference between the offspeed pitches and the fastball You see a deceptive arm speed where it's 86, 87. They think it's a breaking ball and then an 87-mile-an-hour fastball is on them."

Hernandez reiterated that he was healthy in the Red Sox game, giving credit to Boston's hitters for having a good game plan against him. Hernandez decided to change his luck by going to the movies and seeing the film "Waist Deep" early Sunday morning. It's the second time this season he did such an act after struggling on the mound. On May 20, Hernandez saw the film "Poseidon" and pitched seven solid innings against the Orioles the next day. That victory broke a personal four-game losing streak.

"I got to do something different every time I struggle. I didn't pack [for Toronto]. I went straight to the movies."

Cabrera, on the other hand, lasted 4 2/3 innings and gave up six runs on five hits. The biggest blow came in the fifth inning, when Royce Clayton doubled to right-center field to drive in three runs and give the Nationals a 5-1 lead.

Clayton is now 9-for-16 in his last four games and is hitting .270 with 21 RBIs.

"The balls seem to be finding holes, and that's the way the game works," Clayton said. "I'm being patient. I'm sticking to my game plan and not trying to do too much."

Orioles reliever Sendy Rleal also gave up two runs in the sixth inning -- a home run to Byrd and a sacrifice fly to Ward, which scored Soriano.

The Nationals avoided being swept and ended the Battle of the Beltway Series in a 3-3 tie. The victory also snapped Washington's five-game losing streak and improved its record to 33-44.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.