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Nationals ride steady Loaiza past Cardinals

WASHINGTON (AP) -- St. Louis pitcher Jeff Suppan broke one of
baseball's cardinal rules: Touch a ball in foul territory to
prevent it from rolling fair.

Suppan's momentary indecision on Jose Guillen's swinging bunt in
the fourth cost the Cardinals as the Washington Nationals went on
to score two runs in the inning in their 4-1 victory on Friday
night.

"Suppan thought it was foul and let it roll," Washington
manager Frank Robinson said. "That's the first time I've seen
that."

Esteban Loaiza carried a shutout into the seventh inning and
Brad Wilkerson hit a leadoff homer for the Nationals, who won their
67th game of the season, matching the Montreal Expos' total from
2004.

The Nationals, who had lost six of nine games, trailed
Philadelphia by 2½ games in the NL wild-card race entering Friday's
games.

Suppan (12-10) had a five-start road winning streak snapped as
the Cardinals lost for only the sixth time in 15 road games. But he
didn't help his own cause when he failed to corral Guillen's foul
chopper that rolled back into fair territory.

Guillen, who never stopped running, was past first base before
Albert Pujols reached down and picked up the ball.

"It kind of sets the tone. ... Take nothing for granted -- run
hard, play hard," Robinson said.

Suppan said he waited for a second -- then didn't react.

"By the time I got to the ball, I was parallel with (Guillen).
I kind of waited for a second and as I waited, it kept rolling
in," he said. "I went after the ball hard, and I wasn't going to
let it roll back fair, but ..."

Preston Wilson's single moved Guillen to third and he scored on
Brad Schneider's hard smash off the glove of a diving Pujols, the
second infield hit of the inning. After Vinny Castilla grounded
into a double play, Cristian Guzman walked and Loaiza lined an RBI
single up the middle.

"Breaks are part of the game. ... Bad hops shouldn't be the
reason you give up runs," said Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa.

Loaiza (9-9) allowed one run and three hits over seven-plus
innings, walked four and struck out seven. He won for the third
time in four starts. At one point, he fanned five straight hitters
and six of seven.

"I was just throwing my pitches for strikes and whatever
happened, happened. I got some strikeouts and I worked quick. I
wanted to work fast and try to get guys out," Loaiza said.

Suppan (12-10) went six innings, giving up four runs and eight
hits. He walked four and struck out five.

St. Louis is 3-2 on a 13-game road trip, its longest of the
season. The Cardinals came into the game a season-best 34 games
over .500 and 13½ games ahead of second-place Houston in the NL
Central.

Loaiza left after walking pinch-hitter John Rodriguez to open
the eighth. Joey Eischen and Gary Majewski got out of the inning
and Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 41st save in 45 chances.

Wilkerson's 10th homer of the season put the Nationals ahead
1-0. It was Wilkerson's third leadoff homer this year and 15th of
his career.

In the fifth, Guillen tripled off the top of the wall in center
with one out and scored on Wilson's sacrifice fly.

St. Louis cut the lead to 4-1 in the seventh when Jim Edmonds
drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a groundout and scored on
So Taguchi's single.

Game notes
After the game, the Nationals optioned RHP Travis Hughes to
Triple-A New Orleans and selected the contract of LHP Matt White
from New Orleans. White will start Saturday. ... Wilkerson, who led
the majors with nine leadoff homers in 2004, has homered in
consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 13-14, 2004. He
also walked three times. ... Cardinals SS David Eckstein had his
42nd multihit game of the year. ... St. Louis fell to 16-5 on
Fridays and 31-11 in the first game of a series. .. Castilla
grounded into his team-high 11th double play. ... Loaiza walked
more than three batters for only the second time in 27 starts.