WASHINGTON -- It looked like a mismatch: Livan Hernandez pitching on an extra day's rest against a struggling Athletics lineup.
Hernandez threw eight strong innings to win his eighth consecutive decision, and Nick Johnson hit a three-run double to lift the Washington Nationals past Oakland 4-3 Thursday night for their season-best seventh victory in a row.
Sure, Hernandez gave up hits here and there -- he always does -- but he didn't allow the A's to score until the eighth. The big right-hander threw 127 pitches one start after tossing 150.
Then he went down into the clubhouse and watched the ninth inning on television while talking on the phone to his mother. Chad Cordero gave up an unearned run in the ninth before getting his 17th save, but that just fit the pattern: This was the Nationals' 14th one-run victory, tied for the most in the NL.
"I wasn't nervous," Hernandez said. "I know if something's going to happen, it's going to happen. And everything that's happening is good for us now."
Less than half a season removed from the misery of small crowds and 95 losses in Montreal, the Nationals are 34-26 after earning their third sweep, already matching the franchise's total for 2004.
They lead the NL East by 1½ games after winning 10 of 11. And they improved to 21-9 at home, a .700 winning percentage that's the best in the NL.
"I guess we've gotten comfortable real quickly in this ballpark," manager Frank Robinson said.
Oakland, on the other hand, has lost 11 consecutive road games and is last in the AL West. Manager Ken Macha's bid to change things up by bypassing on-field batting practice didn't exactly get his offense going. In nearly half their games -- 29 of 59 -- the A's have scored three runs or fewer, and they're 4-25 in those contests.
After Nationals second baseman Carlos Baerga's error allowed Oakland's third run to score, Cordero retired Bobby Crosby on a routine grounder with runners at second and third to end it.
"The guys played hard all the way to the end, had the winning run on second base," Macha said. "These guys keep playing like that, good things are going to start happening. Hopefully they'll start tomorrow."
Washington did all its scoring in the third inning, batting around against starter Joe Blanton (1-6), who went six innings and allowed seven hits.
Hernandez led off the third with a single, and after Brad Wilkerson lined out, the Nationals rapped four consecutive hits: singles by Ryan Church and Jose Guillen to fill the bases, then doubles by Johnson and Vinny Castilla.
Johnson's shot sailed over the head of center fielder Mark Kotsay and bounced to the wall, scoring three. Castilla's hit scored Johnson, making it 4-0.
That was enough for Hernandez (9-2), who gave up two runs, eight hits, walked one, and struck out five.
"With a pitcher like that you have to battle -- we need to do a better job of it," Crosby said.
Hernandez stranded a runner at second in the first inning, a runner at third in the third inning, and runners at the corners in the fifth.
In trouble, right back out of trouble. That's his M.O.
The Athletics finally scored off Hernandez in the eighth, when Jason Kendall led off with a single and crossed the plate on Crosby's triple. Kotsay added a sacrifice fly.
"To play defense behind him is great, because he's always throwing strikes, and he keeps you in the game," Castilla said. "He doesn't throw 94-95 (mph), but his fastball's good enough, and he puts it in the right time and the right place. That's what winning pitchers do."
As many innings as he logs -- leading the NL the last two years in that category and out front this year, too -- Hernandez hasn't always ended up with winning records. He finished only three of his previous eight major-league seasons with more W's than L's.
But now he owns his longest streak since winning nine consecutive decisions for Florida in 1997, when he went on to be the World Series MVP. That has him on pace to surpass his career high of 17 wins, set with San Francisco in 2000.
"He pitches the edges of the zone, that's why his pitch count is always high. Once he gets strike one on you, he'll get you guessing," Macha said. "Most of the time, he gets you guessing the wrong way."
Nationals OF Marlon Byrd was suspended for two games by Major League Baseball for last weekend's run-in with an umpire. He's appealing. ... The A's optioned OF Charles Thomas to Triple-A Sacramento and recalled OF Matt Watson, who started in left and went 0-for-4.