WASHINGTON (AP) -- Esteban Loaiza labored through a muggy first inning for 10 minutes, giving up two runs.
That deficit must have seemed even larger to Loaiza, because he's been getting less run support than all but one other major-league starter this season.Loaiza knew it. So did his Washington Nationals teammates. And they made a concerted effort to do something about it.Ryan Church, Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla homered, Loaiza settled down to earn his first win in more than a month and the Nationals came back to beat the Oakland Athletics 7-2 on Wednesday night for their season-high sixth straight victory.That fit a pattern the Nationals have established in opening a 1½-game lead in the competitive NL East. They trailed in each of their past 10 wins and in 23 of 33 overall this season."It felt awkward getting him all those runs," said Church, the reigning NL rookie of the month, who had four hits and three RBI. "It was like, 'Here, big boy. We got it, finally.'"Oakland manager Ken Macha tinkered with his lineup, which came into the game hitting .249, the fourth-lowest mark in the majors. Bobby Crosby was moved up to second in the order for just the second time this season, and it paid off: After Jason Kendall singled to start the game, Crosby hit Loaiza's 3-1 offering just to the left of the 410-foot sign in center for his first homer this season.In all, Loaiza (2-4) threw 26 pitches in the first inning, also giving up a walk, and just 14 were strikes. But he only got in trouble once the rest of the way during his seven innings, giving up two singles in the fourth. With runners on the corners and one out, Loaiza got Nick Swisher to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.Loaiza left after giving up two runs on four hits. The key? He started throwing more strikes -- 55 of his 71 pitches in innings two through six.In only two of his 12 previous starts had Loaiza left with the lead -- even though he entered Wednesday with a 3.56 ERA -- because the Nationals were averaging about two runs per nine innings of run support for him.So he had been stuck on one victory since May 5."A big relief: I can say, 'I got No. 2!'" said Loaiza, who went into the clubhouse to switch to an undershirt without sleeves after the second inning. "Pitching with the lead is something I always wanted."Said Nationals manager Frank Robinson: "You like to get the win no matter who is out there, but it's nice that he was out there tonight."Since falling to 25-26 with a loss at St. Louis on May 28, Washington has gone 9-1 to move seven games over .500 for the first time since August 2003, when they were the Montreal Expos. More than halfway into a two-week homestand, the Nationals are 8-1,
improving to 20-9 at RFK Stadium.The Athletics, meanwhile, have lost 10 straight on the road."I don't think there's any one set reason why we're struggling on the road," Crosby said. "We need to figure it out in a hurry here. We can't keep losing."For the Nationals, it was the first time they've hit three homers in a game at RFK Stadium. Robinson, who played in the park against the old Senators, has been saying he figured the ball would fly once the weather heated up.Church hit a line shot to right for his fifth homer of the season, cutting the deficit to 2-1 in the third. Washington went up 4-2 in the fourth on Carlos Baerga's RBI double -- which hit off the top of the fence and drew an accidental fireworks display -- and Schneider's two-run shot to right.That all came off starter Ryan Glynn (0-2), who gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk in his four innings."Your starter throws some misplaced fastballs, trying to put them in a different area, and you lay them right down the middle," A's manager Ken Macha said. "We paid heavily for that."The lead grew to 6-2 in the sixth on Church's two-run triple off Ricardo Rincon, and the Nationals tacked on another run the next inning on Castilla's fifth homer, off Juan Cruz.Church's night wasn't perfect: He made one mistake that earned Robinson's wrath, swinging on a 3-0 pitch during his final at-bat after being given the take sign. Church fouled that back and then hit a single up the middle, falling a double short of the cycle.
Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen was hit on the left hand in the sixth inning by Keiichi Yabu. Guillen took a couple of steps toward the mound and yelled at Yabu, before Robinson came out of the dugout and had an animated discussion with his player. The manager
described it as "two strong personalities out there trying to get a word in." Robinson wanted to take out Guillen, who wanted to run. Guillen eventually left in the eighth and said he'll decide Thursday whether to play that night.