All season long, the Orioles have played to a maddening set of extremes. They've racked up a 20-5 record when scoring four runs or more and have gone just 3-14 when scoring three runs or fewer. Baltimore (23-19) answered which type of night it would be early Saturday, when it scored once in the first inning and came back for three more runs in the third.
"You're never satisfied with scoring enough runs," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, speaking about his team's recent run of offensive success. "There's always room for improvement. But the way the guys play and the way they compete and the way they keep their poise, I think is as good as you're going to see."
"Everybody worries about the offense, but you play 162 games," added left fielder Jay Payton, who homered in the win. "You're going to have good periods of offense [and] bad periods of offense -- great periods, terrible periods -- it's the name of the game. At the end of the season, you want to be able to look back and say, 'OK, we did what we were supposed to do.'
"I don't think players panic too much when they're in a funk, because it's a long year. The guys that can hit know they can hit, and they know they're going to hit when it's all said and done."
Baltimore also improved to 11-5 in one-run games, whereas the team went 13-31 in those circumstances last year. Saturday's score seemed one-sided in the middle innings, but Washington enjoyed a late rally to make things tight.
The Nationals scored three times in the eighth, but Jim Johnson struck out Austin Kearns with the bases loaded to end the inning. Johnson had walked one batter and hit another, but he found his form in time to extinguish the game's biggest threat.
"I didn't make a lot of pitches in the short time I was out there. I think I had a hard time locating my fastball," Johnson said. "I put myself in that spot. I came in with a free base, and I worked myself into that jam. It just comes back to fastball command."
"I think there's a lesson to be learned in this game -- especially for some of our younger guys," said Trembley. "I think the lesson is you can't turn the switch on and you can't turn the switch off. Mentally, you've always got to be ready to go.
"The score is 6-2, and a lot of times you put yourself down and you don't think you're going to get in there. But in the big leagues, the game can change in a hurry, so you've got to mentally get yourself ready to go."
Right fielder Nick Markakis had a hand in both of the home team's rallies, driving a one-run single in the first inning and a two-run home run -- his eighth of the season -- in the third. Payton added a two-run blast in the fifth inning to temporarily put things out of reach, and the Orioles eventually were able to go to their bullpen with a four-run cushion.
"Our pitching's doing an outstanding job and letting us score some runs," said Markakis. "We might not be scoring a ton of runs per game, but I think we're doing a good job of getting people on and getting big hits when it counts."
Baltimore's Brian Burres was the beneficiary of all those hits, and he worked into the sixth inning for the seventh time in eight starts. The southpaw had lost three straight outings, but he never allowed the Orioles to trail. Washington (18-26) reached Burres (4-4) for a two-run double in the second inning and a solo homer in the fourth, but not much else.
"My defense played great behind me," Burres said. "And the offense did great in getting runs."
Washington starter Odalis Perez worked five innings, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs en route to the loss. Perez (1-4) stranded a pair of runners in both the first and fourth innings, but the two homers sunk him behind for good. The Nationals never really stirred until the eighth, when they had two on and two outs on two hits and two ground balls.
Trembley went to right-handed reliever Dennis Sarfate, but the hard-throwing rookie walked one batter and gave up a two-run hit. Johnson came in and walked the bases loaded, and then he hit Lastings Milledge to force another run home. Johnson wound up getting a key strikeout, and closer George Sherrill worked the ninth for his 17th save of the year.
"It was an interesting eighth inning," said Trembley. "But we hung in there. I thought our poise was very good."
"I was ready," said Johnson, who's quickly emerging as a late-game force. "I just didn't locate my fastball like I normally do."
Baltimore shortstop Alex Cintron was a success in his first start of the season, tying his career high with four hits. All of the infielder's hits went for singles, and he said he was glad that his star-turn came in a victory for his team.
"We won the ballgame," Cintron said. "You can have four hits and you lose -- it's no fun."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.