Wilkerson hits first upper-deck HR at RFK in 34 years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Standing on second base, John Patterson had done all the Washington Nationals could ask of him and more. He was holding his own in a duel against an unbeaten pitcher, and he had just doubled for the first extra-base hit of his career.

Then he watched Jon Lieber throw an inside pitch to Brad Wilkerson.

"Oh my gosh. He's pitching Wilkie in," Patterson remembered thinking. "And sure enough, he jumped on the next one."

Wilkerson drove that next one into the front row of section 470, the first upper-deck home run at RFK Stadium in 34 years and the margin of victory Tuesday night in the Nationals' 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I was impressed. He got it all, no doubt about it," said manager Frank Robinson, who hit his share of homers in the stadium decades ago. "I didn't see one going there until it got a little warmer, when the ball travels a little better."

Pulled just inside the foul pole, the blast lacked the power or magnitude of the mammoth blasts by Senators great Frank Howard -- who happened to be in attendance and whose longest homers are still marked by white seats in deep left-center -- but Wilkerson's third homer of the season broke a 1-1 tie against a pitcher who was 4-0 and was 11-1 in his last 14 starts dating to last season.

"I just hoping it would stay fair. I knew it had the distance," Wilkerson said. "He's a great pitcher. He made a decent pitch, but it was something that I was looking for in that situation."

Patterson (2-1) allowed only a first-inning run and struck out six over 6 2/3 innings to raise -- yes, raise -- his ERA to 0.98, even though his breaking stuff wasn't as effective as in his previous starts. He left to a standing ovation after allowing a hit and a walk in the seventh, falling one out short of the seven innings he pitched in each of his first three starts.

"He doesn't surprise me," Robinson said. "This is what the Arizona Diamondbacks thought he would do when they drafted him, and this is what we thought he would do when we got him in the trade [last year]. We're reaping the benefits of it. Hopefully, this will be his so-so game, and he'll bounce back and have a good one next time out."

Nick Johnson extended his major-league season-high hitting streak to 16 games with a first-inning home run, but he fouled a pitch off his left leg in his next at-bat and left the game after six innings with a bruise above his left knee. He will not play Wednesday, and he'll get an extra day of rest when the Nationals have a day off Thursday.

Lieber (4-1) was trying to become the first pitcher in the majors to win five games, but the difference was the two home runs by Wilkerson and Johnson. Lieber allowed just four hits in six innings, but three went for extra bases. He has allowed seven home runs in 35 2/3 innings this season.

Lieber was more upset about his control. He walked four batters -- the first time he has walked three or more since May 24, 2002 -- ending a streak of 43 starts with two walks or fewer. He had only walked two batters in his previous four starts combined this season.

"The bottom line is, I'm just very lucky it wasn't any worse," Lieber said. "My command was just horrible. Constantly 3-2 on guys, falling behind guys 3-0, makes it a long night. The bottom line is you've got to make adjustments, and I don't think I did a
very good job at it."

After Patterson was pulled, Gary Majewski retired Jim Thome on a grounder to second to end the seventh, and Luis Ayala pitched out of a threat after allowing back-to-back hits in the eighth by
getting Mike Lieberthal to ground into a double play. Chad Cordero
pitched the ninth for his fourth save in five opportunities.

Philadelphia scored the game's first run, with Thome's single bringing home Placido Polanco in the first, ending Patterson's streak of shutout innings at 14.

But the two shots off Lieber made the difference.

"He pitched almost good enough to win," Wilkerson said. "But we had a guy that was just a little bit better than him tonight.

Game notes
Polanco, usually a second baseman, made his second straight start -- and second career outfield start -- in left field because of injuries to outfielders Pat Burrell (right groin) and Kenny Lofton
(hamstring). Lofton got a pinch single in the eighth and remained in the game in center field. ... Johnson entered as one of four major-league players who has played in and reached safely in each of his team's games this season. ... Lieber's walk of Jose Guillen
on four pitches in the first inning ended a streak of 16 2/3 innings without allowing up a walk.