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COL@WSH: Betancourt hurls shutout ninth to earn save

WASHINGTON -- Eric Young Jr. turned to teammate Dexter Fowler for information on Nationals reliever Sean Burnett before his pinch-hit at-bat to open the eighth inning Sunday afternoon.

The advice helped Young hit his first home run in nearly three years. It was the swing that ignited the Rockies' much-needed 4-3 victory in the final game before the All-Star break.

"He told me, 'He's got a good pitch outside, so look for something inside,'" said Young, who had gone 481 at-bats since his only previous homer, on Sept. 8, 2009. "That's what I got. He told me that right before I walked up there, so I said, OK. That's what I got, a fastball inside.

"And as soon as I got to Dexter, he said, 'Not a bad scouting report.'"

Trailing, 3-1, the Rockies had managed one run and three hits -- despite loading the bases with no outs in the second -- in seven innings off Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann. After wasting Jeff Francis' decent performance in Saturday's 4-1 loss, they seemed destined to squander an even better performance from Jeremy Guthrie -- six innings, six hits and two runs that came on the sizzling Ian Desmond's fourth-inning homer.

But after Young's homer, Fowler -- who lost playing time because of an early slump but heads into the break hitting a healthy .300 --- and Marco Scutaro scratched out key hits in the eighth before Fowler scored on Michael Gonzalez's wild pitch for a tie.

Jordan Pacheco doubled off Tyler Clippard in the ninth, moved on Jonathan Herrera's bunt and scored on Clippard's wild pitch with Jason Giambi batting.

"I pulled the changeup," Clippard said. "Can't remember the last time I threw a wild pitch, so it's kind of frustrating to do it in that situation. So what are you going to do?"

Pacheco improved his batting average to .302 -- this despite limping into the break with strained right quadriceps.

"This is going to be nice to get a little break -- I don't have to run anywhere for the next five days," Pacheco said. "The whole team needs it, not just physically but mentally."

The rally made a winner of Rex Brothers, who pitched a scoreless eighth. The Nationals placed runners at second and third with two outs in the ninth against Rafael Betancourt, who regrouped to strike out Jesus Flores for his 15th save to seal the victory.

The Rockies took two of three from the National League East-leading Nats and won the season series, 4-3. The rallies came against Burnett and Clippard, who have ERAs below 2.00.

"To win the series, to win the season series against them, you look for little incremental things in relation to where we're at and where we're trying to get to," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "We feel awfully good about the way we gutted that thing out today."

Guthrie was removed from the rotation after a difficult start on June 17, but Sunday was his second strong start in as many outings since being restored to the starting rotation. It also added to the most uplifting development in recent weeks.

Before the Rockies announced a four-starter system, with other pitchers set to pick up innings if the starter left a game early, they seemed destined to obliterate the 1999 Rockies' 6.19 starters' ERA for worst in Major League history. The move was met with much head-scratching.

However, after regularly seeing short starts that effectively put the team out of games early, the Rockies have had competitive efforts in six of their last eight games.

The Rockies exit the break with a six-game homestand, and the hitter-friendly ways of Coors Field sparked out-of-the-box pitching plan. But there is light where there was none earlier.

Guthrie started and won the season opener, but he quickly fell out of favor. His bullpen performance was mixed but he regained the ability to spot pitches with two strikes. He accepted the no-decision happily.

"It was a great team win," Guthrie said. "Nice to finish on a high note like this, coming back against a tough bullpen, which has been lights out for them all season.

"It's a positive to be able to go out there, give the team a chance to win and minimize damage. They had a few baserunners early, and I was able to get out of it, and they had a good swing by their shortstop [Desmond]."

Despite all the positive vibes that Sunday produced, the record needs work. Two-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still recovering from his left groin surgery. Longtime team leader Todd Helton is struggling with poor health and poor stats, although Tyler Colvin has given the team a lift in that regard. Three starting pitchers -- Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio -- continue to miss time with injuries.

But Tracy met with the club Sunday morning and emphasized what's right with the Rockies. Fowler said the message was received well.

"We can work our way back," Fowler said. "We know we can. This is just the start."

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