<
>

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.