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Homer hat trick: Soriano belts three vs. Braves

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rain was falling, midnight was nearing, and
the scattered spectators who remained were chanting, "So-ri-a-no!
So-ri-a-no!"

After a turbulent spring training, it didn't take long for
Alfonso Soriano to endear himself to Washington Nationals fans. A
three-homer game will do that.

The reluctant left fielder capped a career day with a three-run
shot after a wild pitch allowed Washington's go-ahead run to score
in the eighth inning, and the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 7-3
on Friday night.

"Big home run. Big, big, big home run in the eighth inning,"
Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "The other two were big,
too."

It was Soriano's first three-homer game in the majors, and his
five RBI matched his best. He hit leadoff shots in the first and
third innings off John Smoltz -- only the fifth player, and first
since 1999, to get two homers in a game off the former NL Cy Young
Award winner.

"I don't count the first one, because I just made a terrible
pitch," Smoltz said. "After that, tip your hat, because that was
a ball and he hit it out of the park."

Soriano's final deep shot came off reliever Oscar Villareal,
nearly 5 hours after the game was supposed to begin. The
Expos-Nationals franchise hadn't had a player hit three homers in a
game since Montreal's Tim Wallach against Atlanta on May 4, 1987.

And no member of the Nationals had hit two homers in a game at
RFK Stadium, which some players have complained is too big.

"Not tonight for me," a smiling Soriano said.

He came to the Nationals in an offseason trade from the Texas
Rangers and balked when asked to shift from second base to left
field. The Nationals even sent eight players out to play the field
-- with no one in left -- for what had been announced as the $10
million man's spring training debut. General manager Jim Bowden
threatened to put Soriano on the disqualified list, withholding
pay, if he didn't agree to switch positions.

Soriano was in left for the Nationals' next exhibition, and
Robinson spoke before Friday's game about how the player is looking
more comfortable out there. Soriano entered the day leading NL
outfielders with three assists.

"I feel like I'm a Nationals player. The only thing is I didn't
feel like I'm an outfielder. But I always feel like part of the
group," Soriano said.

Where the team always figured he's be fine was at the plate.
After starting the season in the middle of the lineup, he's now
batting leadoff.

"We're a much better team with him," said John Patterson, who
took a two-hit shutout into the eighth before a 3-0 lead became a
3-all tie.

Rain delayed the first pitch by 2 hours, 18 minutes, and the
downpour resumed in the eighth. In the bottom half of that inning,
Braves reliever Mike Remlinger threw a wild pitch that allowed Ryan
Church to score from third and put Washington up 4-3.

Remlinger "couldn't grip the ball at all," Braves manager
Bobby Cox said.

Church, who hit Washington's first triple of the season off
Lance Cormier (0-1), raced home. That made a winner of Mike Stanton
(1-2), who got the last out of the eighth.

Soriano drove Smoltz's fourth pitch of the game over the wall in
left-center for his 24th career leadoff homer. Soriano added
another solo shot off Smoltz in the third, and Ryan Zimmerman added
an RBI single to make it 3-0.

That looked like it might stand up, given how Patterson was
pitching.

He retired Atlanta's first six batters before McCann singled in
the third. The last out of that inning came courtesy of a
spectacular play by Zimmerman. The rookie third baseman sprinted
into short left field and, his back to the plate, made a diving,
over-the-shoulder catch of Pete Orr's sinking blooper. Patterson
applauded as he walked off the mound.

"A very special play," Robinson said. "That one should be
shown in Nationals highlights for years and years to come."

Patterson retired another eight in a row before McCann's double
in the fifth. The next string was eight consecutive batters, until
-- you guessed it -- McCann's double with one out in the eighth.

Patterson went 7 2-3 innings, charged with three earned runs on
five hits, with eight strikeouts. He has 21 Ks in his last two
outings.

Smoltz left after only five innings, in which he allowed three
runs on seven hits. His three strikeouts give him 2,581 for his
career, tying him with Hall of Famer Bob Feller for 23rd place in
baseball history.

"I just didn't want to leave him in tonight with this
weather," Cox said. "You've got to take care of them
sometimes."

Game notes
Soriano also doubled in the seventh off reliever Ken Ray,
but then was thrown out trying to steal third. ... The Nationals
are 5-1 after starting 2-9.