WASHINGTON – All of a sudden, Nationals Park is a fun place to play and a popular destination for baseball fans.
Michael Morse put Washington ahead with a sixth-inning homer, Ryan Zimmerman also connected, and the Nationals beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Saturday for their eighth straight victory.
Just over a week ago, Washington was stumbling along in last place with a 27-36 record. Now the Nationals are within a game of .500 (35-36) and in third place in the NL East behind Philadelphia and Atlanta.
"It's very significant," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We felt like, we're not going to catch the Phillies tomorrow, we're not going to catch the Braves tomorrow. Let's attack each game and set a goal that maybe we can attain. Let's get to .500, and if we do that, we can set some more goals."
Playing in his fifth game since being activated from the disabled list, Zimmerman had two hits, including a double that ignited a three-run uprising in the sixth. Washington is averaging 7.4 runs since his return.
He's delighted to be back, and his teammates couldn't be happier to have him.
"Just being around these guys, I think it's fun to come to the park every day and play," Zimmerman said. "I'm just having a good time playing hard, and good things are happening."
The Nationals' winning streak is their longest since an eight-game run from Aug. 2-9, 2009, and the fans are starting to take notice.
The interleague matchup of nearby rivals drew a crowd of 36,614, the second-largest of the season at Nationals Park behind opening day. The teams drew 35,562 fans on Friday night.
Granted, plenty in attendance were wearing Orioles orange. But Baltimore fans were by far the minority.
Jordan Zimmermann (5-6) gave up two runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings to win a third consecutive decision. The right-hander has not allowed more than three runs in nine successive starts since April 26.
"The last couple starts have been good," he said. "This one, it was good, but I didn't have my best stuff."
Adam Jones homered for the Orioles, who have lost six of seven to fall a season-worst six games under .500 (31-37). After wasting 18 hits on Friday night, Baltimore stranded eight and went 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
"We just have to be able to get the big hit," Jones said. "We have to be able to get the runner in. That's what it is. It's not a lack of baserunners, it's not a lack of opportunities. It's just a lack of production."
Starter Brian Matusz (1-2) absorbed his second straight loss and left in the sixth inning with cramping in his left hamstring.
Asked if he was concerned about missing his next start, Matusz said, "I would say no. I don't think it's a strain or anything like that. It's just a cramp."
With the score tied at 1, the Nationals went ahead for good in the sixth. Zimmerman hit a one-out double and Morse followed with his 13th home run. Ivan Rodriguez added an RBI double off reliever Clay Rapada.
J.J. Hardy singled in a run in the seventh, but that's as close as the Orioles would come. Drew Storen worked a perfect ninth for his 17th save in 19 tries.
Matusz was making his fourth start since being activated from the disabled list on June 1 after missing two months with a strained muscle in his left side. In his previous appearance, he yielded four runs, five hits and four walks in 1 1-3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, who openly wondered whether the left-hander was at full strength.
Matusz pitched well for five innings against Washington but came unglued in the sixth. He was charged with four runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings.
"It was a huge step forward from my last start. That's pretty evident," Matusz said.
Jones and Zimmerman both hit solo homers in the first. It was the 10th of the season for Jones and the second for Zimmerman, the first since his return after missing 58 games with a left abdominal tear.
Derrek Lee hit a one-out double in the Baltimore fourth and took third on a single by Felix Pie. Zimmerman then struck out Mark Reynolds and retired Robert Andino on a grounder.
Notes: Baltimore LF Luke Scott left in the fourth inning with back spasms. ... LHP Tom Gorzellany will be activated on Sunday to start for Washington. He's been on the disabled list since May 23 with an inflamed left elbow. ... RHP Brad Bergesen, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before the game, pitched two scoreless innings. ... Morse now has 42 RBIs, a new career high. He had 41 in 98 games last year. ... The 11-game hitting streak of Washington's Ian Desmond came to end with an 0-for-4 performance.