Nats notch three runs in first, add another to nip Mets

" Turning point: Austin Kearns belted a 1-1 pitch from Oliver Perez to center with two out in the first, staking the Nats to a 3-0 lead.

" Figure this: The White Sox began 1948 by playing a major league-record 28 games without scoring a first-inning run.

" Quotable: "I didn't know it was actually a record and all that stuff. Glad it's over.'' -- Kearns.

-- ESPN.com news services

Nationals 4, Mets 3

WASHINGTON (AP) -- First things first: The Washington Nationals actually scored in the first inning, the only time they've managed to do that all season.

Austin Kearns hit a three-run homer to stake Washington to an early lead, Matt Chico earned his second major league victory and the NL-worst Nationals held off the New York Mets 4-3 on Friday night.

Washington set a league record by playing 22 games at the start of a season without scoring a first-inning run, but Kearns ended the drought with a shot to left-center off Oliver Perez (2-2).

"I didn't know it was actually a record and all that stuff," Kearns said. "Glad it's over."

His second homer of 2007 followed singles by Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young -- a real outburst from a club that was hitting .071 (5-for-70) in first innings until Friday.

"A lot of the guys, they were jumping in the dugout and screaming about it. Finally! Scoring in the first inning," manager Manny Acta said, before putting a more philosophical spin on it. "To me, it doesn't matter where you score, as long as in the ninth, you have more runs than the opposition."

In the end, the Nationals barely did just that, thanks in part to Chico (2-2), who went a career-high 5 1-3 innings, and to closer Chad Cordero, who threw a perfect ninth while facing Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Beltran.

"When you let teams hang around, what ends up happening is that you lose by one or two," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.

His club has lost consecutive games for only the second time this season; Acta's has won two in a row for the second time.

A possibly pivotal moment came in the top of the sixth, with Washington ahead 3-2 and Chico tiring. His only walk was to David Wright leading off that inning.

Moises Alou, who had three hits, followed with a shot up the middle that second baseman Belliard tried to scoop and toss to second with his glove all in one motion. It didn't work, and Alou was credited with a single. An out later, Jose Valentin dumped a single to left, loading the bases with Perez coming up.

Saul Rivera replaced Chico, and Perez stayed in to bat, perhaps because he was in the midst of retiring nine consecutive batters.

Did Randolph consider pinch-hitting?

"You always bounce it around in your mind, but it's still early in the game," Randolph said. "He was pitching a great game. You can't challenge your people to give you quality starts if you worry about scoring runs in the sixth inning. Ollie deserved to go back out."

So Perez batted -- and struck out, going down on a knee as he swung through strike three, before Reyes grounded out to end the inning.

Perez wound up leaving after seven innings, having allowed a season-high four runs. He threw 120 pitches, 81 for strikes.

Chico was nearly as precise, a sharp contrast from his previous outing. He gave up two runs and walked only one batter Friday, and 67 of his 98 pitches were strikes. Compare that with his last time on the mound, April 21 at Florida: 4 2-3 innings, five runs, seven walks, two wild pitches (one into the stands).

"I came into the locker room today saying to myself, 'Just let them hit it. It doesn't matter if I give up hits. I just don't want to walk anybody," Chico said. "That was my whole goal."

While the Mets did accumulate nine hits off him, eight were singles. The left-hander, never above Double-A until this season, held in check a New York offense that entered the day atop the majors or close to it in all manner of statistical categories, from batting average (.295) to slugging percentage (.470) to average against lefties (.352).

"It definitely is a confidence builder," Chico said. "The Mets have a great lineup."

Game notes
The White Sox began 1948 by playing a major league-record 28 games without scoring a first-inning run. ... Chico singled in the second for his first big league hit. ... Reyes stole his 13th base.