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Griffey hits 30th homer this season

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After all of the injuries, after the long
power drought to start 2005, Ken Griffey Jr. is a 30-homer player
once again.

And the instant offense he's providing day in and day out for
the Cincinnati Reds is precisely the sort of clutch hitting the
Washington Nationals can only dream about right now.

Griffey reached 30 homers in a season for the first time since
2000, Brandon Claussen won his fifth straight decision by becoming
the latest unheralded hurler to shut down Washington and the Reds
beat the Nationals 5-3 Thursday.

"As you get older, stay around, you just go out and have fun
and don't worry if you hit them out," the 35-year-old Griffey said
after his solo shot off Livan Hernandez (14-6) gave Cincinnati a
3-1 lead in the seventh. "I'm not trying to hit it out, just
trying to get good contact."

With the loss and the New York Mets' victory in Arizona, the
Nationals have sole possession of last place in the NL East for the
first time this season.

Washington left 10 runners on base Thursday, and twice failed to
score after getting someone to third base with only one out,
including when Hernandez grounded into a double play in the fourth
inning.

Less forgivable was Gary Bennett's popup to shortstop in the
sixth with runners at the corners and one out. It came on a
curveball that was the last pitch for Claussen (9-8), who gave up
one unearned run, six hits and two walks over 5 2-3 innings. He is
5-0 with a 2.77 ERA over his last six starts.

"It's like a pasture out there," Claussen said. "It's a
pitcher-friendly ballpark."

After Bennett, pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga grounded out against
reliever Matt Belisle to end the inning.

"A real big spot for us," manager Frank Robinson said.

Why does Washington seem to have so much trouble getting runners
home from third with less than two outs?

"That's a great question," Bennett said. "I wish had the
answer to that. Or I wish somebody in here had the answer."

Robinson has lamented since spring training that his club lacks
a true slugger, the sort of player who can alter the course of a
game with one swing.

Someone like Griffey. But after getting at least 40 homers in
seven of eight seasons from 1993-00, he struggled through injuries
that limited him to a yearly average of fewer than 16 homers and 80
at-bats from 2001-04.

There was a torn knee tendon, hip and thigh strains, a
dislocated shoulder, a bad ankle, and then the torn hamstring in
August 2004 that had to be reattached to the bone with screws. He
began 2005 by going 79 at-bats without a homer, the longest such
season-opening drought of his career.

But he's turned things around, particularly of late.

With two other hits Thursday, Griffey is batting .457 with five
homers and 11 RBI over an 11-game hitting streak that's lifted his
average to .297. He's got a chance to hit .300 over a full season
for the first time since 1997 with Seattle.

His two runs put him at 1,400 for his career, and he moved
within nine hits of 2,300.

"I don't really think about those things. I just concentrate on
one at-bat at a time," he said. "And if I can put a good streak
together, then that's OK."

Sean Casey also had three hits for Cincinnati, and Felipe Lopez
and Austin Kearns added two each.

After Griffey's line drive on a 3-2 pitch began the seventh,
Hernandez hit the next batter, Adam Dunn, before being lifted. Dunn
eventually came around to score on reliever Hector Carrasco's wild
pitch. Carrasco also gave up Jason LaRue's RBI double that made it
5-1.

That gained significance in the bottom of the ninth, when Brad
Wilkerson hit a two-run homer off Kent Mercker. David Weathers,
Cincinnati's sixth pitcher, gave up a single to Jose Vidro to bring
the tying run to the plate before getting Nick Johnson to hit into
a fielder's choice and striking out Jose Guillen.

"Everybody's moving around a little slow. We've got to come out
with a better attitude," Wilkerson said. "It's hard to come back
every game. We've got to come out with a sense of urgency right off
the get-go."

Game notes
The crowd of 40,762 put Washington above 2 million, with
2,007,656 in 59 games. The Montreal Expos drew fewer than 800,000
last season. ... On June 30, the Nationals were a majors-best 30-13
at RFK Stadium, but since then they've gone 6-14 and lost five of
six home series. ... The Reds began the season 7-28 on the road,
but they're 16-7 since, including winning 11 of their past 13 away
from Cincinnati ... Hernandez allowed four runs on 10 hits (nine
singles), walked three, hit a batter and was charged with a balk,
one of three overall in the game. He's won only two of his last 10
starts; earlier in the year he won 11 decisions in a row.