Final

Series: Game 1 of 3

Washington leads 1-0 (as of 7/21)

Game 1: Friday, July 21
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Game 2: Saturday, July 22
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Game 3: Sunday, July 23
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Cubs 6

(37-58, 20-30 away)

Nationals 7

(41-56, 21-24 home)

    7:05 PM ET, July 21, 2006

    RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 

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    CHC 011100300 6 9 1
    WAS 13000003 - 7 11 1

    W: J. Rauch (3-1)

    L: B. Howry (3-3)

    S: C. Cordero (15)

    Nats' owners finish sale; players close out Cubs' Prior

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- It was a feel-good night for the Washington Nationals and more misery for the Chicago Cubs.

    Alex Escobar's two-run single in the eighth inning capped a comeback for the Nats, who treated fans to handshakes and autographs at the stadium gates then went out and won 7-6 on Friday night.

    "It all made for a very festive atmosphere," said manager Frank Robinson, who spent an hour talking to spectators and posing for pictures before the game, "and it carried right over."

    During the game, the Nationals' new owners completed paperwork for their $450 million purchase of the club from Major League Baseball.

    Then the team spoiled the return of Cubs right-hander Mark Prior from the 15-day disabled list.

    Things started poorly and got worse for Prior. He hit the first batter he faced, walked the next, then threw two wild pitches to allow the first of four runs he gave up over 3 1/3 innings.

    "I don't have the touch to put guys away,'' Prior said. "Physically, I felt fine. I was able to go out and throw, and I felt good throwing. At times, I feel like I do what I want to do. But then there are times when I can't do it. Not that I can't do it, but it's just not executing. It's nothing mechanical. It's just a lack of pitching more than anything."

    The right-hander's ERA rose to 8.14, and he's winless in eight starts dating to last season, the longest drought of his career.

    The Nationals led 4-1, then trailed 6-4 after Aramis Ramirez hit a tiebreaking two-run shot, his second homer of the game.

    But Washington scored three runs in the eighth off Bob Howry (3-3), who came in when reliever Scott Eyre left with tightness in his right hamstring after facing one batter.

    "Scotty came up lame. He threw a couple of pitches and grimaced," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It's been tight, and today it was exceptionally tight."

    Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Anderson singled with one out. Soriano stole third, then scored on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly to cut Chicago's lead to 6-5. After Nick Johnson's single put runners on the corners, Escobar connected with a hanging slider. About three strides out of the batter's box, Escobar pulled up with a strained right hamstring and limped to the bag at first.

    The oft-injured outfielder, who missed 42 games with a left hamstring injury earlier this season, said he couldn't entirely enjoy the moment.

    "Stuff keeps happening to me," Escobar said.

    The Nationals often felt that way about their entire franchise, from their cash-strapped days in Montreal, to their uneasy early tenure in Washington under Major League Baseball's control.

    But Friday's rally, which made a winner of Jon Rauch (3-1), began as incoming team president Stan Kasten announced that the club's $450 million sale to a group led by real estate developer Ted Lerner was done. Control of the team will shift once a money transfer is completed Monday, Kasten said.

    "Any remaining issues are complete," Kasten said, then turned his attention to the field, letting out a yelp as the runners crossed the plate on Escobar's hit.

    "With that good news and the win, it's a very significant day for this organization, this franchise and the team itself," Robinson said. "The uncertainty has been cleared away."

    Friday's game was the start of a homestand after a six-game road trip and the All-Star break, time used by the Lerner group to make changes to 45-year-old RFK Stadium and launch a marketing campaign called "Paint the town red."

    Cosmetic changes were made to the ballpark, including new concessions stands and red carpets leading to the entrances, and fans were given red hats with the team's curly W logo. A total of 35,442 turned out, nearly 9,000 more than this season's average; the only larger crowds in 2006 were for the home opener and three games against the Yankees.

    "You always feed off the fans," catcher Brian Schneider said.

    And the on-field product was better than it's been: The Nationals entered the day having lost seven of nine games.

    Rauch threw a perfect eighth, and Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 15th save.

    Ramirez hit an upper-deck solo homer barely inside the foul pole off starter Pedro Astacio in the second, then drove a low pitch to the mezzanine level in left-center off reliever Kevin Gryboski for his 19th homer that broke a 4-4 tie.

    Game notes


    Cubs 1B Derrek Lee was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game, and Baker said he would hold out Lee again Saturday to rest his right wrist. ... Robinson doesn't expect RHP John Patterson to pitch again this season. Patterson had right forearm surgery Thursday.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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