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Dukes helps deliver victory for Nats

Dukes helps deliver victory for Nats

WASHINGTON -- Is Sunday the day right fielder Elijah Dukes turned the corner? The Nationals sure hope so. On this day, Dukes saved the Nationals from a complete disaster on the field.

The Nationals blew a six-run lead, but Dukes' eyes and a wild pitch by right-hander Guillermo Mota played a major role in helping them defeat the Brewers, 7-6, at Nationals Park.

The game was tied at 6, when Dukes came to the plate with one out and Mota on the mound. At first, Dukes was looking for a pitch to drive. On the first pitch he saw, Dukes swung and missed. He stepped out of the batter's box and realized he had to be patient at the plate.

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"I basically had to tell myself that I was going to drive the ball the other way and stick with the game plan," Dukes said. "He was throwing a lot of fastballs down. He threw two of them down to me."

Dukes, a .105 hitter going into that at-bat and batting eighth in the order, stuck to the game plan all right. He became patient at the plate and worked the count to 2-1. After taking a called second strike, Dukes took the next two pitches for balls and collected his seventh walk of the season. That walked turned out to be big later in the inning.

"I was patient enough to get a good walk, and it went on from there," Dukes said.

Dmitri Young entered the game as a pinch-hitter for reliever Jon Rauch, and he singled to right field. Dukes already had his mind made up he was going to third on the play, because the Brewers were playing deep to prevent the extra-base hit. Dukes made it to third without any problem.

"[The Brewers] were playing no doubles. They are basically giving you two bags in that situation," Dukes said. "[Young] hit it pretty hard, so I had to see it through. When I took off, I was going to make it to third base. I just ran hard."

Felipe Lopez followed Young. On a 1-0 count, Mota threw the ball past catcher Mike Rivera, allowing Dukes to score the game-winning run. After the game, Nationals manager Manny Acta lauded Dukes for the at-bat he had in the ninth inning.

"Elijah Dukes had a tremendous at-bat, and he set the tone for that inning," Acta said. "He has a good approach at the plate. It's just a matter of things starting to happen for him."

Said Young: "That was a professional at-bat. That's the best at-bat he has had this year. It's kind of tough hitting in the eighth hole. You have to learn how to hit in the eighth hole. Right there, he really came through for us."

Dukes believes his season will turn around, as long as he is patient at the plate. Dukes will play every day in right field because Austin Kearns is expected to be out of action for four weeks because of a right elbow injury.

"I know things are coming along well, especially when I can take walks against somebody who has good stuff, like Mota has," Dukes said. "I get a fair amount of walks. I'm patient at the plate. When I'm patient at the plate, I start getting a lot of home runs and a lot of hits, too. I know it's a sign of things to come."

At first, the game was a one-sided affair in favor of the Nationals. By the fifth inning, they had a 6-0 lead. With the way Tim Redding has been pitching this year, it appeared he would be able to hold the lead. But Milwaukee ended up tying the score in the top of the sixth inning.

Corey Hart and Mike Cameron highlighted the scoring with a two-run home run and a two-run double, respectively. Saul Rivera came in to replace Redding, and Gabe Kapler singled to right to send home Cameron and tie the score at 6.

"The first five innings, productive; the sixth inning, absolutely horrible," Redding said. "There is no excuse to put us in a situation where we have a 6-0 lead and we have to fight back to the bottom of the ninth to win the game. I would have gotten out of the inning, 6-2, if I didn't hit [Rickie] Weeks. I was trying to throw a fastball up and over the plate. But there's no way that ball should run and hit him."

But the Nationals ended up with a happy ending, thanks to Dukes.

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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