Galvanized Nats rally for comeback win

Galvanized Nats rally for comeback win

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Manny Acta held a team meeting on Thursday afternoon to tell his players to play the game the right way. The pep talk worked -- at least for a day.

The Nationals came back from a one-run deficit to defeat the Pirates, 5-4, at Nationals Park on Thursday, snapping Washington's seven-game losing streak.

Down, 4-3, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Nationals rallied and scored two runs off reliever Tom Gorzelanny.

With runners on first and second and one out, Ryan Zimmerman singled to right field to drive in Cristian Guzman and tie the score at 4.

Adam Dunn followed with a single up the middle to bring home Nick Johnson.

"Our offense never gives up. These guys would always go up there and get quality at-bats," Acta said.

Then it was up to closer Joel Hanrahan to save the game. Hanrahan has been unreliable for most of the season. Part of the meeting earlier in the day was to give a player like Hanrahan words of encouragement. Acta indicated that Hanrahan was going to get every chance to right the ship.

"It's not a secret. I believe in him," Acta said. "I think he can do it. I think he has the stuff to do it. It's a work in progress. It's going to take time."

Hanrahan is known to rely too much on his breaking pitches. Before the game, however, Hanrahan was told to use his 95-mph fastball more often, and it worked. He saved his fourth game of the season. He threw 19 pitches, all but two of them were fastballs.

"It has been preached to him lately to go ahead and get beat on his best pitch," Acta said. "He has a very good fastball. He has to execute the slider when he is ahead in the count. Tonight, he just went out there and carried the game plan and proved to himself that it worked."

Hanrahan looked at his triumph on Thursday as a small step toward success.

"You have to take it for what it is," Hanrahan said. "Tomorrow is a new day. You have to come back tomorrow and be ready to play."

Nationals right-hander Craig Stammen made his Major League debut, and it was a successful start for the most part. He lasted 6 1/3 innings and gave up four runs. He threw 95 pitches, 57 of which went for strikes. He didn't go to a three-ball count until the 21st batter he faced in the game.

"I had a blast," Stammen said. "I know my goal is to come out here and have fun. That's what happened. I struggled in the seventh inning, but it was a lot of fun."

The game got off to a promising start, as Stammen had a perfect game through four innings. He said he was aware of what was going on and kept telling himself he had to get the next three hitters out. But the perfect game fell by the wayside as he gave up a leadoff double to Adam LaRoche.

"You are always thinking about the next inning and getting three outs before you think about what already happened in the game," Stammen said.

The Nationals gave him a 3-0 lead by the fourth inning. Catcher Josh Bard drove in two of the three runs. But it wasn't the RBIs that made Stammen comfortable on the mound. It was having Bard behind the plate. The two have worked together at Triple-A Syracuse.

"It was big. He did an awesome job," Stammen said about Bard. "It was like we were pitching in Syracuse because we had some success down there. We did the same thing tonight. He is a great catcher and I love throwing to him. It was very comforting."

Back in the Minors, Bard knew Stammen had what it took to be in the Major Leagues.

"You see a guy like him that throws the ball downhill and wants to be down in the zone, that kind of stands out," Bard said. "He has a strong young body and I think he has a bright future ahead of him."

But the Pirates started to get to Stammen. In the fifth inning, Andy LaRoche grounded out to Guzman at shortstop to drive in Adam LaRoche.

Pittsburgh then took the lead against Stammen in the seventh inning. Adam LaRoche made it a 3-3 game by hitting a two-run homer. After Brandon Moss doubled, Andy LaRoche singled up the middle to bring home Moss and break the tie.

Acta then took Stammen out of the game in favor of Julian Tavarez, who was able stop the rally. Stammen walked off to a standing ovation even though he left with the Nationals behind.

"It was a little awkward, but it was a good debut. It was kind of cool," Stammen said.

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