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Nats ride long ball to win

Nats ride long ball to win

WASHINGTON -- The theme of change was in the air in the Nationals clubhouse moments after Washington defeated Houston, 4-1, Tuesday night at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Hip hop music was blaring, and Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals was on TV, both in stark contrast to the silence heard in previous weeks under the orders of manager Frank Robinson. Reliever Gary Majewski for one was glad to see the music return to the clubhouse.

"It's pretty good," Majewski said of the music. " We're very slowly starting to get stuff together. When you take stuff away, it's just like kids. They learn that, 'Hey, we might need to change it up a little bit in order to get what we want.'"

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It was fitting that change came in the locker room on the same night that changes were seen on the field -- both offensively, and from the pitching staff.

Starter Ramon Ortiz turned in his longest outing of the year, working seven innings while surrendering only one run on six hits. The lone blemish came on a Morgan Ensberg solo home run in the sixth inning.

Manager Frank Robinson said that Ortiz told him that this would be the start when he would put it all together.

"That was an excellent game from [Ortiz]," Robinson said. "We talked a little bit before the game and I said, 'Hey, let's get it done tonight.' And he said, 'We're going to do it tonight.' And he went out there and did it."

Ortiz credits his reversal of fortune, at least for tonight, to a change in his philosophy on the mound.

"I don't try to throw 95, 96 down the middle," Ortiz said. "I try to throw 90, 91, 92, 93 on the inside corner and down and away. It's better."

The bullpen followed Ortiz's lead with Majewski working a scoreless eighth and Chad Cordero blanking the Astros in the ninth to earn his sixth save of the season -- his second in three days.

Majewski hopes that Tuesday's win could signal the start of more steady play for Washington and less losses like the 10-3 defeat to Houston on Monday.

"Last night was kind of like a brain fart," said Majewski. "But you are going to have those games, but we have been doing it most of the year. Tonight we came out and did what we needed to do. In order to be successful, we have to do it, day in and day out. We have to be more consistent."

The winning run came about in a strange way for the Nationals in the seventh. After a Jose Vidro double to center field off the glove of Willy Taveras, Robinson put the bunt on with clean-up hitter Nick Johnson at the plate.

Robinson said he called for the bunt because of Johnson's recent struggles at the plate. Johnson was hitting .071 in his last six games as his batting average dipped below .300 for the first time since April 12.

"Have you seen Nick lately?" Robinson asked after being asked why he told Johnson to bunt. "He's struggling right now."

Johnson pushed the ball up the first-base line, allowing Vidro to advance to third, where he was driven in by a Jose Guillen sacrifice fly to right field. Despite being in the cleanup spot, Johnson said he had bunting on his mind before Robinson called for the left-handed hitter to lay one down.

"I wanted to get it down," said Johnson. "I wanted to get it down first and don't even worry about running. Run afterward. You just get it down."

It turned out that Washington wouldn't have needed Johnson's bunt as pinch-hitter Daryle Ward and left-fielder Alfonso Soriano combined to hit back-to-back home runs off Houston's Russ Springer in the eighth. Ward's homer reached the upper deck in right field, the second home run hit into the upper deck in two days.

"I think it went in the parking lot behind the stadium," Vidro said of Ward's solo homer. "I know it was far."

Soriano's home run cleared the 410 sign in center field and continues his hot start to the season -- a start that Soriano believes is his best to date.

"This is the best start I've ever had," said Soriano. "I feel very comfortable at home plate. I have a little more power. I'm more selective. I'm looking at my pitches at home plate."

Vidro believes that the increase in home runs isn't a result of RFK being over hyped as a pitcher's park, but a change in climate.

"It's great," said Vidro. "It's like the weather is starting to change for us."

Both in the clubhouse and on the thermometer.

Michael Walsh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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