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Nats rally late vs. Benitez, Giants for fifth straight win

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A fifth consecutive home crowd of more than
30,000, a fifth consecutive victory. They might be in last place
and their roster might be headed for a trade-deadline overhaul, but
the Washington Nationals are suddenly streaking.

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns combined to drive in all
of Washington's runs, including two in a ninth-inning rally against
San Francisco closer Armando Benitez, and the Nationals edged the
Giants 4-3 Wednesday night.

The bigger crowds are "creating some excitement," said
outfielder Ryan Church, who had two hits for the second straight
game. "They're like our 10th man out there, and you kind of get
the feeling like last year. They're pulling for us, and we're
getting those comeback wins."

The Giants led 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth despite
another quiet night from Barry Bonds, who went 0-for-2 with two
walks and left the game in the middle of the final inning because
of a mild hamstring strain.

"We took him out as a precaution," manager Felipe Alou said.
"I don't think he'll play (Thursday), either way."

Benitez entered in the ninth in search of his 14th save.
Instead, the right-hander blew a save for the sixth time this
season; the Giants had been 40-4 when leading after eight innings.

Benitez (4-2) walked Robert Fick, and, after striking out
Alfonso Soriano, gave up an infield single to Felipe Lopez on a
hard shot that bounced off second baseman Ray Durham. Zimmerman
followed with an RBI single that tied the game -- his third hit of
the night and NL-leading 42nd hit of the season with runners in
scoring position.

"He is doing some awful good things this year with this
ballclub," manager Frank Robinson said. "Just right in front of
our eyes, each at-bat, each week, each ballgame, he just seems to
mature and get better as he goes along."

Benitez then walked Nick Johnson to fill the bases and bring up
Kearns, who's been adjusting to life with his new team since this
month's eight-player trade that brought him and Lopez to Washington
from Cincinnati. Kearns hit a sacrifice fly to left to drive in the
winning run.

"He's a good clutch guy," Lopez said. "He comes through."

Benitez thought he pitched well enough to get out of the ninth:
From his standpoint, he managed to induce both Lopez and Zimmerman
to hit grounders.

"I did my job," Benitez said.

Perhaps, but so did Zimmerman, Kearns and a lineup that produced
12 hits and is coming up with key hits that were so hard to come by
earlier this season. Even earlier in the game: Washington left the
bases loaded in the seventh, when both Zimmerman and Kearns popped
up to strand runners.

"It was nice to be able to have another chance at it,"
Zimmerman said.

The comeback gave Saul Rivera (1-0) his first major league
victory. He was Washington's fourth reliever, and threw a perfect
ninth.

Randy Winn's two-run single in the seventh had put San Francisco
ahead. Washington starter Pedro Astacio was charged with three runs
-- two earned -- and six hits. The right-hander took a 2-1 lead into
the seventh, but Todd Greene reached on second baseman Marlon
Anderson's fielding error, and pinch-hitter Todd Linden doubled to
right. Reliever Mike Stanton came on, and gave up Winn's hit.

Bonds is 0-for-6 in the series and 2-for-12 without a home run
over his last five games, leaving him stuck on 722 homers, 33
behind career leader Hank Aaron. Bonds wasn't booed quite as much
as during Tuesday night's series opener, but he still heard jeers,
including after a running catch in left of Church's sinking liner
in the fourth.

The Giants have lost three consecutive games to fall from first
place in the NL West to third, three games behind division leader
San Diego.

"Sometimes little things happen here and there, but I still
think we are all on the same page," said starter Noah Lowry, who
gave up two unearned runs in six innings, "and I still like our
chances in this division."

Game notes
Giants SS Omar Vizquel left in the fifth inning after
fouling a ball off his right foot. The team said X-rays showed no
break, and he was listed as day-to-day. ... Giants RHP Matt Morris'
right forearm felt stiff Wednesday, a day after it was hit by a
line drive, but he anticipates making his scheduled start Sunday at
Pittsburgh.