Austin Kearns Comes Through in 10th for Nats Victory

David StatmanContributor IJuly 27, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 12: Outfielder Austin Kearns #25 of the Washington Nationals bats against the Atlanta Braves April 12, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Austin Kearns has endured a miserable season this year. The Lexington, Kentucky native is hitting just above the Mendoza Line at .201, with only three home runs and 17 RBI, with only one since May 7th. However, Kearns came through Sunday with a game-winning base hit, in a roller coaster ride of a game.

The pitching match-up didn't look like much of one before Sunday's game. The Nats put John Lannan, whose pitched like an All-Star all season, against San Diego's Chad Gaudin, a journeyman with his fifth club who was 4-9 with a 4.89 ERA and a reputation for being very erratic. However, Gaudin was more than capable of matching up with Washington's ace on this occasion, pitching seven stellar innings and only allowing one earned, while Lannan went eight brilliant innings and matched Gaudin with only one earned.

For the first five innings it was a classic, enthralling pitcher's duel. Gaudin, whom Nationals color commentator Rob Dibble termed "The Human Rain Delay" for his leisurely pace on the mound, was basically unhittable. Only Lannan seemed to be able to get good contact, smacking two singles.

On the other side of the coin, Lannan worked quickly and was remarkably efficient, throwing only 81 pitches in those eight innings, and forcing the Padres' less-than-intimidating lineup to hit into 11 ground ball outs.

In the sixth inning, Padres center fielder Will Venable, son of long-time Major Leaguer Max, rocked a Lannan pitch into left-center, avoiding Willie Harris' pursuit and hitting the wall for a double. Two batters later Kevin Kouzmanoff came through with a double that got past a diving Josh Willingham and scoring Venable, ending Lannan's shutout.

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However, the lead would not last long, as Willingham struck back in the bottom of the seventh with a solo homer to left. The next inning, Nick Johnson hit into what looked like a double play, but second baseman Luis Rodriguez took his eye off the throw from Everth Cabrera and dropped it. Adam Dunn would make the Padres pay, with a single up the middle which scored Willie Harris, giving the Nats a 2-1 lead.

Although it looked like the game was over, the real fun was about to begin in Nationals Park. John Lannan was removed for closer Mike MacDougal, who had yet to blow a save in six chances. After retiring the first two batters, Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff with his fastball, Kyle Blanks, hitting .180, stepped to the plate as the Padres' last hope and crushed a monster home run to left, tying the game up. The Nats failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, and it was on to extra innings.

MacDougal and Joe Beimel combined to put a zero on the board in the top of the tenth, and Nyjer Morgan led off the bottom half with a bunt single, moving to second on a sacrifice by Willie Harris. Nick Johnson was intentionally walked, and the stage was set for Kearns. Kearns hit the 1-0 pitch from Greg Burke into right center, scoring Morgan and winning the game for the Nats.

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