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Armas, Nats get first home sweep in more than year

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Washington Nationals' new owners couldn't
have scripted it any better.

With the fans waving their red "rally towels," Tony Armas Jr.
pitched seven strong innings, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Church
homered, and the Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs 7-1 Sunday to
complete their first home sweep in more than a year.

A group led by local real estate developer Ted Lerner finished
paperwork on the $450 million purchase of the Nationals from Major
League Baseball on Friday night, during the opener of a three-game
set billed as a "Grand Re-Opening Weekend," featuring
improvements to 45-year-old RFK Stadium.

An average of 34,771 fans were at the three games -- 8,000 more
than what Washington was drawing this season -- and the Nationals
treated them to seven runs in each game of the series, with three
straight quality outings from starters.

"It never hurts to have a lot of fans out here in the stands,
rooting for you, behind you. It makes you feel good, no doubt about
that," manager Frank Robinson said. "But you still have to go out
and perform. We did that today. It kind of gets you up before the
game starts, and we carried it into the game."

So what if the opponent was the Cubs, at 37-60 one of only two
NL clubs with a worse record than Washington?

Perhaps the Nationals finally have a bit of positive momentum.

"I guess you could call it 'Mr. M.' He showed up briefly,"
Robinson said. "He doesn't stay here very long. We hope he'll be
back."

That last phrase might also be applied to Soriano, who said
after the game he doesn't think he'll sign a new deal with
Washington before the July 31 trading deadline. He spoke with
incoming team president Stan Kasten on Thursday, but they didn't
discuss contract details. Soriano has said he'd like to stay in Washington.

"I'm waiting to see what happens to me," he said. "I don't
know what's going on."

Neither do some other Nationals players who could potentially be
dealt, including Armas (7-5), who allowed only three hits and put
together five 1-2-3 innings. The right-hander gave up a run, struck
out three and didn't walk a batter in a reversal from his previous
four outings, when he was 0-2 with a 9.72 ERA.

The difference?

"His pitch count stayed down because he was aggressive,"
catcher Brian Schneider said. "He was going after it and letting
guys put the ball in play."

Armas retired Chicago's first eight batters until Cubs starter
Carlos Marmol (3-4) singled up the middle. Juan Pierre followed
with a double, but Marmol held at third, and Neifi Perez grounded
out to end the threat.

Marmol bruised his pitching hand during that at-bat, and he
stayed in. He already had allowed Felipe Lopez's two-run single in
the third, scoring Schneider (who walked) and Soriano (who
doubled).

"His hand was swollen and he couldn't grip his fastball,"
manager Dusty Baker said.

After Marmol walked Marlon Anderson leading off the fourth,
Church drove a 91 mph pitch into the upper deck for his fifth homer
of the year, making it 4-0.

"The walks all led up to big innings for them," Cubs catcher
Michael Barrett said. "They did a nice job of hitting when it
mattered most."

Two outs later, Soriano also drove a 91 mph offering out for his
31st homer. That gave him six hits in the past two games, all for
extra bases: a homer, a triple and four doubles.

Soriano hit shots to the warning track in the first and sixth
innings.

"He could have very easily hit three" homers, Robinson said.

Soriano has homered in five consecutive series -- but who knows how
much longer he'll be helping the Nationals.

"We love Alfonso, we love what he does -- lots of people do.
Let's face it: He's a potential MVP candidate. It goes without
saying that he's a superior player," Kasten said. "But, you know,
our No. 1 mission is getting to be the best team we can as soon as
possible."

Game notes
Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman dove to his right to stab
Barrett's liner, turning a probable extra-base hit into an out in
the second. ... Cubs LHP Sean Marshall went on the 15-day DL a day
after leaving his start with a strained ribcage muscle. RHPs David Aardsma and Michael Wuertz were recalled from Triple-A Iowa; both
pitched Sunday. ... Lee went 0-for-4 and made an error. ... The
Nationals' last sweep of a home series came June 28-30, 2005,
against Pittsburgh.