Nationals overcome mistakes, top Cubs

Nationals overcome mistakes, top Cubs

WASHINGTON -- It looked like it was going to be a very long Saturday afternoon for the Nationals. They had two running mistakes in the first and third innings that could have cost them a victory over the Cubs.

In the first inning, down 2-0 with runners on first and third and no outs, Ryan Zimmerman hit a ground ball to Chicago second baseman Neifi Perez, who was able to get the force at second base and then nailed Alfonso Soriano at the plate.

With the score tied at 2 in the third inning, Soriano was thrown out at the plate for the second time. Zimmerman was at the plate again, and he hit a shallow fly ball to right fielder Jacque Jones. Unlike the previous night, when he scored on a similar fly ball caught by second baseman Todd Walker, Soriano was unable to score, as Jones threw him out at the plate.

"It's frustrating you don't take advantage of your opportunities and you don't make the other clubs make the plays to get out of jams," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "A man at third base, less than two outs, we don't get him home. When a club is struggling a little bit, like the Cubs are struggling, you get opportunities. Against good ballclubs, you are not going to be given those extra opportunities, and that's when it comes back to haunt you."

But the Nationals were able to overcome their mistakes and defeat the Cubs, 7-3, in front of 38,021 fans at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Things went downhill for the Cubs after starter Sean Marshall left the game in the top of the fifth inning with a strained oblique. With Scott Williamson on the mound, Zimmerman doubled down the third-base line to drive in Soriano and Felipe Lopez and give Washington a 4-3 lead.

But the highlight of the game occurred in the sixth inning. With a runner on second and two outs, Robinson sent Alex Escobar to pinch-hit for starter Livan Hernandez. The pervious night, Escobar suffered a right hamstring strain after driving in the game-winning runs. He wasn't expected to play for a few games, but Escobar told Robinson at 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning he could pinch-hit, and he did just that in a big way.

Escobar hit Will Ohman's 1-2 slider for a two-run home run over the left-center-field wall to increase the lead to 6-3.

"The only reason he wouldn't be able to drive the ball was if the hamstring was really pulling and it was bothering him to torque. It didn't seem to do that," Robinson said. "He's a strong individual. The ball comes off his bat very good."

It appeared Escobar hurt the hamstring more as he was getting out of the batter's box, but he said he was trying to stop himself from running too hard.

"My first instinct was to run hard, then I told myself to slow down. That's probably why it looks like that. It wasn't like I hurt it even worse. It's just my body adjusting to a slow down situation," Escobar said. "Even though you know you are not 100 percent, you can be able to go and help the team win and show them that you are capable of doing things they think you can't do, especially at this level. I'm going to try to battle through it and see where I go."

The Nationals added one more run in the eighth when Lopez doubled down the right-field line to send Soriano home.

The winning pitcher was Hernandez, who pitched six innings and gave up three runs on seven hits. For the first time, he didn't feel any pain in his knee, back and ankle. In fact, during his bullpen session earlier in the day, Hernandez told bullpen catchers Nilson Robledo and Jose Martinez that he was going to have a good game.

Hernandez was able to use the lower half of his body to get more velocity on his fastball. When he is going well, Hernandez's fastball is clocked at 88-89 mph. The only real problem he had was against Aramis Ramirez, who hit two monster home runs off him.

"You know when you feel good. Today was one of the days," Hernandez said. "You go outside and you know you have a chance to win. The knee is starting to feel better. The four days during the All-Star break helped me a lot."

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