Austin Kearns‘ role has changed, from power-hitting regular to bench player. What’s remained constant is his veteran approach to difficult circumstances.
Kearns, inserted into the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning, drove in the winning run with a two-out, 10th-inning single, and the Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres 3-2 on Sunday.
“Austin is such a pro and he gave us a professional at-bat,” said interim manager Jim Riggleman. “He got a good pitch to hit and he drove it. He’s in a tough situation because he doesn’t get to play that much.”
Nyjer Morgan, held out of the starting lineup with a tight left hamstring before entering the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, led off the decisive rally with a bunt single down the third base line off Greg Burke (2-3).
Willie Harris sacrificed Morgan, Nick Johnson was intentionally walked and Ryan Zimmerman flew out. Kearns, who was 6 for 45 in his past 29 games, then shot a single into the gap in right-center.
“You still have the same focus in that situation – just trying to get the guy in,” said Kearns, who raised his average to .201 with the winning hit. “Just trying to get a pitch to hit and not miss it. Don’t foul it off or anything, square it up and see what happens.”
Kearns’ heroics assured that a sterling effort by left-hander John Lannan didn’t get wasted.
“For him to be ready to hit in a big situation like that shows a lot,” said Adam Dunn.
“I’m glad it happened to (Kearns),” Lannan added. “He’s a great teammate and a great ballplayer. It’s not easy to come off the bench.”
Joe Beimel (1-5) got the final two outs of the 10th for the victory. Josh Willingham also homered for Washington, which finished its first homestand under Riggleman with a 4-7 record and two straight wins.
Kyle Blanks homered for the Padres, who are 1-3 to start an eight-game road trip.
Kevin Kouzmanoff‘s two-out RBI double broke a scoreless tie in the sixth. With one out, Will Venable doubled to the wall in left-center and scored when Kouzmanoff lined a ball past the diving Willingham in right-center.
Willingham tied the game in the seventh, hitting his 14th homer off a 1-2 pitch from Chad Gaudin.
Harris ignited the go-ahead rally with a one-out single in the eighth off Luke Gregerson. Nick Johnson then hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Everth Cabrera, but second baseman Luis Rodriguez dropped Cabrera’s shovel toss for a fielder’s choice error.
Gregerson got Zimmerman looking at a third strike before Dunn singled to center, scoring Harris for a 2-1 lead.
With two down in the ninth, Blanks ripped Mike MacDougal‘s first pitch into the left-field stands for his third homer. It was MacDougal’s first blown save in seven chances.
“We got a second life, but it was hard scoring today,” Padres manager Bud Black said.
San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez entered the game as a defensive substitute at first base in the seventh, extending the majors’ longest active consecutive games streak to 306. Gonzalez also broke the Padres consecutive games record he previously shared with Steve Garvey.
“That’s not really that important to me,” Gonzalez said. “I just wish we would have won the game. But it’s a cool accomplishment. I just got to be thankful that I’ve been healthy and been available for all the games.”
Neither starter got credit for shutting down the opposition before turning the game over to the bullpens.
Gaudin allowed a run on five hits over seven innings. He walked two and struck out four, failing to win for the fifth straight start.
I thought that (Gaudin) held his stuff on a very hot, muggy day,” Black said. “There were situations where he had to make pitches and he did.”
Lannan yielded a run on five hits over eight innings. He walked one and struck out two.
“My fastball, I’m really trusting it, getting a lot of ground balls,” Lannan said. “Guys are swinging early and helping me out.”
NOTES: Cabrera stole a base for the fourth straight game, but got picked off first by Lannan in the eighth after drawing a one-out walk. It was Lannan’s first career pickoff. … RHP Drew Storen, taken by the Nationals with the 10th pick in the first round of the June draft, has yet to walk a hitter in 18 innings split between Class-A Potomac and Class-A Hagerstown. He has allowed one hit and struck out 20 in his last seven appearances. … Washington took two of three from the Padres, the franchise’s first series win against San Diego since the Expos swept three games in Montreal May 6-8, 2003.