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Johnson hits in nick of time for Nats

Johnson hits in nick of time

MIAMI -- The frustration had been building. Coming into Friday night's game, the Nationals had been hitless in their 20 most recent at-bats with runners in scoring position. Some of that poison had been extracted when the visitors scored three times in the first inning against the Marlins.

But there the Nationals were in the seventh inning, trailing by one with the bases loaded and two outs and veteran first baseman Nick Johnson at the plate. Johnson took a 2-2 pitch that appeared close enough to swing at, before purging all the demons created by those missed opportunities.

Johnson lined a fastball from left-hander Taylor Tankersley over right fielder Jeremy Hermida's head for a frustration-releasing bases-clearing double.

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"The dugout just roared," said Tim Redding, the Nationals' pitcher who also saw a potential defeat for him transformed into a victory. Johnson's heroics propelled the victory-starved Nationals to a 6-4 triumph before 13,279 at Dolphin Stadium. It broke a three-game losing streak and was just the club's second victory in the last 14 games.

Johnson also drove in a run with a first-inning single.

"That's what we need right there that's been lacking," manager Manny Acta said.

The much-injured Johnson, coming off a shelved 2007 season, seemed almost stoic afterward about his dramatic hit. He agreed that "those kind of hits have been missing" from the Nationals this season. He said it "felt good," yet didn't want to make too much of clutch hitting in a mid-April game.

"It's a long season," he said. "We've got to keep working."

Acta acknowledged afterward that the victory was an emotional salve of sorts for the Nationals' younger players.

"I just don't want this to get into the guys' minds," he said. "I can handle it. I went through it last year and I know what we're doing. But the kids -- some of them start doing extra stuff and get out of their games a little bit. This helps them not think about doing too much, just play the game."

Johnson reminded that even after his hit, the Nationals had to hold off the Marlins for three more innings. Luis Ayala took care of 1 2/3 innings of that, Ray King got an out and big Jon Rauch got his third save of the season with a one-hit, no-run ninth inning.

That and Johnson's hit made a winner of Redding, now 3-1. Redding allowed only three hits and a walk in six innings, but was victimized by a three-run Marlins sixth. Josh Willingham's two-run homer gave the home team a short-lived lead.

"I threw a fastball away like I had been all night," Redding said of his delivery to Willingham. "This one flew open a little bit, ran back over the plate and Willingham was only looking to do one thing right there, and that's hit a home run. But I was happy with the way I threw for the first five innings."

Redding said that his best pitch was a fastball. He threw 58 of them, 40 for strikes. After the Nationals' 14-inning loss Thursday night to the Mets, he said he knew "I had to do something to pick us up."

He was sitting on the bench wondering what went wrong when the Nationals had a little surprise of their own.

"The balloon proverbally was popped when I gave up three runs," Redding said. "Then they bailed me out. Bailed everybody out."

Another contributor was Felipe Lopez, a surprise starter at second base with Acta admittedly looking to "shake things up." Lopez rewarded Acta by getting three hits, including a fence-rattling double that led off the game and started a three-run inning.

Lopez scored two runs and stole a base. He'll start Saturday at shortstop to give regular Cristian Guzman a rest, and Acta sounds as if he wants to keep finding a spot for him in the lineup, particularly if it will help change the team's direction.

"This game will give him something to build on," Acta said. "We'll probably give him some more at-bats and hope he can help our lineup."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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