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Loaiza K's 11 over eight innings

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Esteban Loaiza threw a 92 mph fastball past
Pat Burrell on his 128th and final pitch Sunday, then crouched and
pumped his right fist twice.

An inning later, a white towel draped over his shoulders, Loaiza
led his Washington Nationals teammates out of the dugout for
high-fives and back slaps to celebrate a 6-1 victory over the
Philadelphia Phillies.

When the Nationals filed into their clubhouse, this was written
in capital letters on the message board near the doorway: "The fun
has begun!"

Yes, somehow, some way, those ex-Expos are still playing -- and
winning -- meaningful games as the calendar turns to Labor Day.

Loaiza struck out 11 and took a shutout into the eighth on short
rest, and Preston Wilson and Brian Schneider each hit a three-run
homer as Washington gained a game on all three teams it trails in
the NL wild-card standings.

"They had a chance to knock us out, as I've said, and they
didn't do it," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "So we're
getting our second wind, it looks like."

What an 18-hour turnaround it was for a club whose apparent lack
of focus prompted Robinson to institute a clubhouse ban on stereo
music, card playing and cell phones.

At about 10 p.m. Saturday night, Nationals All-Star closer Chad
Cordero gave up back-to-back homers in the ninth, allowing
Philadelphia to erase a 4-1 deficit and tie the game. A Phillies
win would have put them five games ahead of the Nationals.

But the Nationals won it 5-4 in the 12th on Wilson's RBI single.
And Wilson had three more hits Sunday, including his 22nd homer. It
came off reliever Pedro Liriano in the seventh, following walks to
Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen, and the shot landed in the upper
deck.

"Everybody's starting to come together," Wilson said, "and
believe that other teams aren't better than us."

Schneider's 10th homer came in the second off Gavin Floyd (1-2),
who was called up from the minors to make his first start for the
Phillies since April.

The Nationals hadn't score more than five runs in a game at home
in exactly a month. And they had only four three-run homers in 136
games entering the day.

Yet, suddenly, a little before 4 p.m. Sunday, the Nationals
found themselves trailing the Phillies by only two games. Losses by
the Astros and Marlins left those clubs a half-game behind
Philadelphia.

"It hurts just like it did last night. A loss is a loss," said
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose club went 6-6 on its longest
road trip of the season.

"Our destiny is in our hands. If we're going to win the East or
be a wild-card team, now's the time to step up. Right now we're
kind of even, so we're going to see how good we are."

Now Philadelphia has a 10-game homestand against Houston,
Florida and NL East leader Atlanta. Washington, meanwhile, plays
its next seven games at home against Florida, then Atlanta.

"We'll see after this week," Wilkerson said. "I'm very happy
right now to see this team bouncing back and seeing what we can do.
If we come out and play good baseball, I'll put our chances up
against anybody."

Particularly with outings like Loaiza's. The right-hander gave
up a run, four hits and four walks, and matched his career high for
strikeouts in improving to 10-10.

The Phillies had their chances before Jason Michaels' RBI single
in the eighth, but they left two runners on in each of the first,
second and sixth innings.

"He got the big outs," Schneider said.

At one point, Loaiza retired 12 straight batters, and he
improved to 9-2 in his career with three days' rest. Significantly,
by going eight innings, he gave much-needed rest to a beleaguered
bullpen. The outing ended a nine-game run in which no Nationals
starter earned a win.

"He was putting it right where he wanted to put it," said Ryan
Howard, who struck out three times.

Floyd, in contrast, couldn't get his breaking ball to break
early. He nearly hit Guillen twice and Wilson and Vinny Castilla
once each before eventually plunking Castilla in the second.
Schneider drove the next pitch into the visiting bullpen.

"We've been in it the whole time," Schneider said. "We
haven't played our best, but you know what? The rest of the
division isn't running away with it."

Game notes
Loaiza also struck out 11 Phillies on April 27. ... Wilson
was 1-for-9 in the series until his game-winning hit Saturday. "We
need it. We need somebody to get hot, and he seems to be the guy
now," Robinson said.