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Nats walk off with fourth straight win

Nats walk off with fourth straight win

WASHINGTON -- It's the ninth inning of Friday's game between the Nationals and Cardinals. First baseman Dmitri Young is sitting with Jason Simontacchi, John Patterson and Nook Logan in the dugout, and sees that his team has runners at first and second, one out and Ryan Zimmerman at the plate.

Young tells his teammates that the game is over. Zimmerman is going to come through in the clutch.

"Being a young player like he is, he deals with the pressure like he has been around a long time," Young said.

Young's prediction came true. Zimmerman came up big in the bottom of the ninth inning and helped the Nationals defeat the Cardinals, 3-2, in front of 27,992 at RFK Stadium.

The Nationals have now won four consecutive games and have improved their record to 49-60.

With the score tied at 2 and right-hander Ryan Franklin on the mound, Washington rallied with one out. With Felipe Lopez on first base, Ronnie Belliard singled to put runners on first and second.

Up to the plate steps Zimmerman, the same guy who hit dramatic game-winning home runs against the Yankees and Marlins last year.

"I knew I was fourth in the inning, so if I'm up, somebody was going to be on base," Zimmerman said. "You think about the whole inning when you are out on the field."

Zimmerman worked the count to 1-1. On the next pitch, he singled past shortstop David Eckstein to drive in Lopez for the game-winning run.

Young and Robert Fick led the charge as teammates mobbed Zimmerman between first and second.

"You saw me. I was ready. I had my gloves up and everything. It's all part of having fun," Zimmerman said.

It was Zimmerman's sixth game-winner -- three home runs, two singles and a walk -- since the beginning of the 2006 season. That ties him with Twins first baseman Justin Morneau for the Major League lead during that span.

"It's all about staying relaxed and not getting out of your plan," Zimmerman said. "It's real easy to get a little too excited and maybe swing at a pitch that you really don't want to. The biggest thing is, try and stay relaxed and put the pressure on the other team."

Catcher Brian Schneider is amazed at how Zimmerman is able to come through in the clutch at the age of 22.

"I don't know how you explain it," Schneider said. "It's funny that he ends up in that situation every time. It's funny how that works. He has done a great job so far in his career."

Zimmerman's bat has certainly come alive. In the last 30 games, he is hitting .341 (41-for-120). His overall batting average for the season is at .269. It's his highest batting average since April 8, when he was hitting .286. He is on pace to drive in 83 runs, which would be 27 fewer than he recorded in his rookie year.

Zimmerman said that he is learning to be more patient at the plate and is no longer chasing bad pitches.

'I'm kind of learning what the pitchers are doing to me. It's tough in the second year," he said. "No disrespect to the people around me now -- Dmitri is having one heck of a year -- but you take Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson out of the lineup, that's a lot. That's 100 walks, 100 runs. But that's all part of my learning process. If I want to be a No. 3 hitter, I have to learn how to get pitches I know I could handle and know when pitchers are going to pitch around me."

Tim Redding had another quality outing, though he was not involved in the decision. He pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up one run on seven hits. That run was scored in the second inning, when St. Louis right-hander Kip Wells singled to right field to drive in Adam Kennedy.

In his last two games, a span of 12 1/3 innings, Redding has struck out 16 batters. Asked if he was back to being the Tim Redding who blew everybody away in the Houston organization, the right-hander said that he didn't want to look back into the past.

"I don't want to be the Tim Redding of the Houston days," Redding said. "I want to be who I am now. I want to keep throwing the way I'm throwing now. If that's reminiscent of what I was as a prospect in the Minor Leagues, so be it. I'm trying to throw the ball to the best of my ability, throw the pitches that I need to throw in that situation. The results will come.

"I can't explain 16 strikeouts in my last [12 1/3] innings. My first four starts, I had [five] total. It's just a situation where I'm getting ahead of the hitters early and I'm able to throw my secondary pitches. That's what pitching is all about -- just trying to keep the hitters off balance and throw multiple pitches for strikes."

Down by a run, Washington tied the score off Wells in the fourth inning, when Lopez doubled down the left-field line to drive in Redding.

The Nationals took a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. With reliever Russ Springer on the mound, the Nationals had the bases loaded and one out, when Belliard hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Ryan Langerhans. The run was charged to Wells.

St. Louis tied the score in the top of the eighth inning off reliever Jon Rauch. Yadier Molina singled to center field to drive in Juan Encarnacion.

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

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