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Hernandez shines as Nationals extend Giants free-fall

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco Giants have gone from
having a half-game lead in the division and a season-best five-game
winning streak to their worst skid in 10 years -- all in a span of
11 days.

And the players are baffled that things could suddenly get so
bad, considering they have long believed this veteran roster has
the talent to win the mediocre NL West and make the playoffs.

That certainly seems like a long shot they way things are going.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run double and Livan Hernandez won his
fourth straight decision in the Washington Nationals' 4-1 victory
over the Giants on Tuesday night.

"It's surprising to us because we haven't really had a bad
streak like this all year," first baseman Mark Sweeney said.
"It's hard to chew on when you leave the field the way we've been
leaving the field."

The Giants lost their ninth straight game, the club's longest
losing streak since dropping 10 in a row from June 21-30, 1996 --
and the fans are growing increasingly restless and impatient with
the team.

Those in the crowd who were still around by the ninth booed
embattled closer Armando Benitez after he struck out Marlon Anderson to start the inning.

Benitez, who has blown his last three saves after converting
seven straight, gestured to the fans twice, including raising his
arms as he walked to the dugout after retiring the side in order.

The Giants haven't won since taking a half-game lead over
Arizona and San Diego on July 22. They are last in the five-team
division, 4½ games out of first.

"That's definitely warranted," Sweeney said of the fans'
frustration. "Our fans are great fans and very smart. You've got
to understand, it's not like we're showing up and throwing our
gloves out there."

Alfonso Soriano hit a sacrifice fly and Felipe Lopez tripled,
walked twice, scored a run and stole his 30th base for Washington.

Soriano -- playing his second game after learning he wouldn't be
traded at the deadline after all -- hit a sacrifice fly to right in
the third inning for Washington, which snapped a six-game road
losing streak with Monday's 10-7 win and played well again.

Ray Durham singled to center with two outs in the sixth to drive
in a run for San Francisco, but the Giants did little else on
offense to help rookie starter Matt Cain.

Hernandez (9-8) pitched seven strong innings to beat his former
team for the second straight start, pitching in San Francisco's
waterfront ballpark for the first time since the Giants traded him
during spring training in 2003.

The burly right-hander hasn't lost since June 20 at Boston, a
span of eight starts. He allowed six hits and one run, struck out
three and walked one. Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 19th
save.

"I felt great," said Hernandez, the losing pitcher for the
Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series against the Angels. "I
could throw any pitch at any time. It's important for me because
the sinker came back. ... People still blame me for Game 7. People
forget I won more important games that year."

Barry Bonds was held out of the lineup with swelling in his
right knee.

The Giants' slugger asked manager Felipe Alou for a break to
rest his troublesome knee, three days after he fouled a ball off his
right ankle in the sixth inning at Pittsburgh.

Giants trainer Stan Conte said Bonds might have favored his
right leg, putting more pressure on the knee. The 42-year-old
Bonds, second on the career home run list with 722 behind Hank
Aaron's 755, underwent three operations on his right knee last year
and was limited to 14 games in 2005.

Cain (7-8) lost to Washington for the second time in six days,
but struck out seven both times. The right-hander allowed four hits
and two runs in seven innings, walking two.

Moises Alou grounded into an inning-ending double play in the
first, swinging at a 3-0 pitch. He struck out swinging on a
curveball clocked at 61 mph in the sixth and was booed as he headed
for the dugout.

The Giants held a brief team meeting after the game. "Embarrassing to lose nine straight?" Felipe Alou said. "It's
embarrassing to lose one or two. It can happen."

Game notes
Nationals manager Frank Robinson marked the 24th
anniversary of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. ...
Giants SS Omar Vizquel had his fifth straight multihit game at
home, reached base in all four of his plate appearances -- seven
straight overall -- and stole his 16th base. ... The Nationals
placed C Robert Fick on the 15-day DL with left rib cartilage
separation, an injury that will likely take at least three or four
weeks to heal. ... Giants 3B Pedro Feliz, who had played every
inning this season, didn't start for the first time. Shea Hillenbrand took his place. Feliz had been one of six players in
the majors to start each of their team's games at the same
position. ... Hernandez is 3-2 in five starts against the Giants
since they dealt him. ... The Giants surpassed the three million mark
in ticket sales for the seventh straight year.