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Boone's home run rallies Nationals to sixth straight win

POSTED: September 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Nick Wass/The Associated Press

Atlanta Braves reliever Elmer Dessens (34) heads for the dugout after he was pulled by manager Bobby Cox, center, as catcher Clint Sammons (5) waits Sunday during the eighth inning in Washington. The Nationals won 8-4 to sweep the three-game series.

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WASHINGTON — By the time he rounded second base, Aaron Boone's momentary disappointment at not executing a bunt was already a distant memory.

After failing to lay down a sacrifice, Boone slammed a three-run, eighth-inning home run to lift the Washington Nationals to their season-high sixth straight win, 8-4 over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.

Called on to bunt after a single by Ryan Zimmerman and a walk to Elijah Dukes, Boone popped Elmer Dessens' first offering foul. Boone sent the next pitch from Dessens (0-1) into the left-field bullpen for his sixth homer, his first since May 27.

"It's a good foul-off, huh?" Boone said. "Yeah, it was good — a good job of not executing. I only got one strike. If they would have put (the bunt) back on, I would have got it down."

Boone finished with four RBIs and Washington went on to score five times in the eighth, sending 11 men to the plate. It's the Nationals' longest winning streak since a 10-game run from June 2-12, 2005, the team's first season in Washington after moving from Montreal.

"Things have been a lot better. It's a lot more fun to be a part of," Boone said. "You definitely see progress. You see guys coming to play and coming to work. And it's refreshing. As disappointing as this year's been at times, I think it's starting to turn."

Washington manager Manny Acta defended his decision to play the percentages and call for the bunt, reasoning that it made sense to give Boone one chance to sacrifice.

"It was a one-shot type of thing," Acta said. "If he didn't get it down, we were going to let him swing."

That strategy, said Boone, may have lulled the Braves into a false sense of security.

"In a weird way, it kind of turned in my favor, I think. ... I think they still thought I was bunting and they wanted to stay aggressive with me," Boone said. "I got a good pitch to hit."

The eighth-inning collapse snatched a victory away from right-hander Jair Jurrjens, who had limited the Nationals to three runs and five hits over six innings, striking out seven.

Jurrjens, however, took responsibility for not pitching deeper into the game.

"The bullpen, we've been working them too much. The starters aren't giving them a lot of innings. ... It's hard for them to go out there every day and save the starters," Jurrjens said. "I wouldn't want to be in their situation, either. I feel their pain."

Garrett Mock (1-3) recorded his first major league win with a scoreless eighth inning.

Willie Harris had three hits for Washington.

With third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Brian McCann — who have combined for 43 home runs — out of the starting lineup for the finale of the weekend series, Atlanta couldn't muster enough offense to prevent its 16th loss in 20 games.

"It got way out of hand," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team has dropped 10 of 14 games to Washington, the worst team in the National League this season.

Atlanta took a 1-0 lead in the first when Martin Prado hit a two-out double and scored on Omar Infante's RBI single. Dukes' run-scoring groundout and an RBI infield single by Boone put the Nationals ahead in the bottom of the inning.

Yunel Escobar's eighth homer restored the Braves' lead in the fourth. Prado walked, Infante singled and Escobar crushed Collin Balester's 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats.

Harris' RBI hit in the fourth pulled the Nationals to 4-3.

Washington rookie right-hander Collin Balester pitched a career-best seven innings, allowing four runs and six hits. More importantly, he kept the Braves in check after they took the lead.

"He basically split the game. ... In the first part of the game, he had no command of any of his pitches," Acta said. "Then the second part of it, he got command of his curveball and his fastball and was able to pitch ahead and pitch in and out."

After Boone's homer, Emilio Bonifacio doubled to left and scored on a Wil Nieves single for a 7-4 lead. Cristian Guzman later added an RBI single off Will Ohman.

Notes: Dukes hit cleanup for the first time this season. ... Braves RHP Manny Acosta was unavailable due to soreness in his right shoulder. ...The Nationals will recall OF Roger Bernadina and 1B-OF Kory Casto from Triple-A Columbus on Monday when rosters expand. Washington also will activate SS Alberto Gonzalez left hamstring strain)from the 15-day disabled list and select the contracts of LHP Mike Hinckley and RHPs Shairon Martis and Levale Speigner from Columbus. ... Atlanta will recall RHPs Charlie Morton and Brent Lillibridge and LHP Jeff Ridgway from Triple-A Richmond on Tuesday. The Braves will purchase the contracts of C Corky Miller and RHP James Parr from Richmond. All five will be added to the roster for Tuesday's game in Florida. To make room on the 40-man roster, OF Matt Diaz and RHP Rafael Soriano will be moved from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.



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