The victory snapped Washington's three-game losing streak and improved its record to 31-42.
Left-hander Micah Bowie started for the Nationals, but he lasted only 4 1/3 inning, while giving up only one run. By the time he left the game, with the score tied at 1, Bowie had thrown 104 pitches, 58 for strikes.
Bowie's fastball wasn't effective and he acknowledged that he was trying to strike people out to help him get out of the inning. He ended up with a season-high seven strikeouts in the game.
"I threw a lot of balls and then had a lot of strikeouts. Any time you have the strikeouts, the pitch count is going to be a little higher," Bowie said. "I wasn't executing very quick outs. I kind of labored all night.
When Bowie left the game in the fifth, the Indians had runners and first and second and one out. Out of the bullpen came right-hander Luis Ayala, who was making his first appearance since September 2005. He missed the last couple of weeks of that season because of bone spurs in his right elbow. Ayala then missed all of 2006 and the first two months of this season because of elbow reconstruction surgery.
"The game is tied. We are in a tough situation and I tried to get a ground ball to make the double play," Ayala said.
Ayala's season debut didn't start the way he wanted it, as Jhonny Peralta blooped a single to left-center field to load the bases. But in typical Ayala fashion, he used his sinker, his out pitch, to get pinch-hitter Travis Hafner to hit into a double play and get out of the inning.
"It was good for me because it helps me get my confidence back," Ayala said. "It has been a long time. I did my job because I threw strikes."
"It's awesome to get him back," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "He has been such a great reliever. We missed him over the past year. He is throwing good. The velocity is back up there. He has good movement on his ball. To come in and get a guy like Hafner to hit into a double [play] is pretty big."
After Ayala left the game, Saul Rivera, Ray King, Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero threw four combined shutout innings. Rivera picked up the win, while Cordero picked up his 12th save of the season.
"All the credit goes to our bullpen again. They did a tremendous job," Acta said. "We try to put the guys in situations where they can have success. I think everybody knows how our bullpen is once we are ahead in the ballgame. The guys just went out and did their job tonight."
The bullpen gave the Nationals a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning off Fausto Carmona. With the bases loaded and no outs, Brian Schneider hit into a double play, but Dmitri Young scored on the play. Brandon Watson followed with a double to right-center field to score Austin Kearns.
For Watson, he went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He also drove in the tying run in the fourth inning with a single to left field. It was Watson's first multi-hit game since his Major League debut, Aug. 9, 2005, against the Astros.
"It seems like a long time. It's baseball and I'm back here," Watson said. "I'm fortunate to be in the lineup and I'm going to play hard everyday."
The Nationals scored the last run of the game when Cristian Guzman homered off Fernando Cabrera in the seventh inning. It was his first career home run at RFK Stadium.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.