Eighth-inning rally lifts Nats over Cubs

Eighth-inning rally lifts Nationals over Cubs

WASHINGTON -- The Lerner group gave Nationals fans something different on Friday at the grand re-opening of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, including improvements to the stadium's exterior landscaping, enhancements to the cleanliness of the building and better food service.

The fans also received better play on the field as the Nationals came back from a two-run deficit to edge the Cubs, 7-6, in front of 35,442. The victory improved their record to 41-56.

But it turned out to be a bittersweet day for center fielder Alex Escobar. He drove in the game-tying and winning runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, but on the same play, he suffered a right hamstring strain while rounding first base. Escobar is listed as day-to-day. The injury comes when Escobar is the hottest hitter on the Nationals. He is 17-for-41 (.415) with two home runs and 10 RBIs.

The Nationals were down, 6-4, when they scored three runs off relief pitcher Bob Howry. After consecutive singles by Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Anderson, Soriano stole third base and came home on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly. Soriano was able to score because second baseman Todd Walker caught the ball in short-right field.

"With Walker going away from the infield, I knew [Soriano] was going to try to score," Zimmerman said. "It looked like when Walker caught it, he didn't think [Soriano] would go. But that's the good thing about having Soriano."

After Nick Johnson singled to put runners on first and third, Escobar was able to get a base hit to left field to score Anderson and Johnson, lifting the Nats to a one-run lead. Escobar should have had a double, but he injured himself as he was rounding the bag. He considered going to second base, but as he got halfway between first and second, he went back to first.

"I felt it three or four steps toward first base. I felt the cramp. It just wouldn't let go," Escobar said. "At the moment, it was very frustrating. It was very painful."

Escobar was bending down and first-base coach Davey Lopes was checking to see if Escobar was OK. Lopes waved his hands to indicate that Escobar needed the trainer and the team needed a pinch-runner.

The fans showed their appreciation for Escobar by giving him a standing ovation as he walked slowly back into the dugout.

Escobar is arguably the most unlucky player in the Major Leagues over the last five years. Thought of as a "can't miss prospect," Escobar has missed a lot of action in four of those years because of knee, foot and hamstring injuries. This year, he missed 42 games because of a left hamstring injury. It came a couple of days after being called up from Double-A Harrisburg. Escobar believes his current injury isn't as bad as the one he suffered in May.

"It's not really bad. I've done it before. I don't think it's a pull all the way. It's sore right now. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be," Escobar said. "It's part of the game. I play hard. That's what I do every day. Stuff keeps happening to me. I do everything I can to keep myself in shape and to be out there. If I knew [how to get rid of the injury bug], I wouldn't go through this. Hopefully, I'll work on it and try to find a way to stay healthy."

Zimmerman is baffled by Escobar's injuries because the latter has a great work ethic and is one of the first players in the clubhouse.

"It's not like he doesn't work, because he is here early every day. Either he is lifting or stretching or getting stuff done," Zimmerman said. "He can hit. He's a great player. It's a shame, it's like he's unlucky. You feel real bad for him. He's a good guy and he works real hard."

Manager Frank Robinson suggested a specialist should check Escobar's legs to find out why he is having so many problems.

"He is showing now that he is capable of doing some very exciting things and you love to have him in the lineup on a daily basis," Robinson said. "If we feel like he is that important to us, we should get a specialist and just try to check him out thoroughly, as far as his muscles, tendons, and whatever else is in the leg, and just see if there is something you could do to help him prevent some of these things."

With Escobar out of action, Luis Matos most likely will get the start in center field.

Reliever Jon Rauch picked up his third win of the season, while Chad Cordero picked up his 15th save.

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