WASHINGTON -- Wil Nieves wanted to move the runner up with a hit to right field in the ninth inning. Next thing he knows he's rounding the bases with his first major league homer -- a game-winner.
Nieves, who started the season with Triple-A Columbus, homered off Bob Howry into the Washington bullpen in right field to give the Nationals a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs, their second straight win after dropping 16 of 19 games.
"I was just trying to hit the ball the other way," the 30-year-old Nieves said. "He got the ball up. I didn't know I had it. When it went out, it was a great feeling. I felt like I was running out on the clouds."
Earlier today, Nieves' wife arrived in Washington from Puerto Rico, and she was resting at the hotel because Nieves wasn't in the starting lineup.
"I just imagine her screaming," Nieves said. "Probably the hotel management is going to the room to see what's going on."
Nieves had brief stints with San Diego and the New York Yankees but never hit a home run. The game-winner came in his 163rd career at-bat.
"Always nice to see anybody get their first big league home run. And the way he did it, opposite field to win a ball a game, meant just a great feeling for a kid who came to camp hoping to stick as a backup," Washington manager Manny Acta said.
Nieves is only with Washington because Paul Lo Duca is on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right hand, and he and Acta know his time with the Nationals may be brief.
"I think he's obviously impressing a lot of people, but it will be a push unless we decide to keep three catchers," Acta said.
Austin Kearns led off the ninth with a single off Howry (0-2). Kearns, who was hitless in his previous 14 at-bats, was held out of the starting lineup for the first time this season by Acta. He entered the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement.
After Willie Harris struck out, Nieves, who entered in the seventh as part of a double switch, hit a drive to the opposite field, and Washington had its second win in its final at-bat of the season.
"Backup catcher gets hold of a high fastball -- that was that," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said.
Howry, who has a career 3.49 ERA in his 10 previous major league seasons, is off to a rough start. He has given up 10 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. He admitted to not knowing much about Nieves.
"It doesn't matter if it's him, or anybody," Howry said. "That location is never a good spot to try and get somebody out."
Jon Rauch (2-0), Washington's fifth pitcher, worked a perfect ninth.
Chicago, the NL Central leaders, had won six of its previous seven. They left 10 runners on, leaving Piniella to moan about missed chances.
"We had every chance in the world to win it," Piniella said. "We just didn't do it."
Nick Johnson hit a two-run home run off Ryan Dempster into the second deck in right field in the first inning. It was the first home run to reach the second deck of Nationals Park since it opened this season.
In the fifth Johnson led off with a single, advanced on a walk and moved to third on a fly before scoring on a fielder's choice.
Washington took a 3-2 lead in the sixth. Cristian Guzman reached on an error by first baseman Derrek Lee leading off. After Ryan Zimmerman singled and Johnson bounced into a double play with Guzman taking third, Lastings Milledge hit an RBI single to right.
Geovany Soto was walked intentionally to load the bases, and after Daryle Ward was announced as a pinch-hitter, Acta brought in left-hander Mike O'Connor. Piniella countered with the right-handed Matt Murton. O'Connor walked Murton to score Ramirez with the tying run.
- Washington RHP Chad Cordero threw from 150 feet before Friday's game and said he's ready to pitch. Cordero, who has tendinitis in his right shoulder, will pitch in Saturday's game, Acta said.
- OF Elijah Dukes, who's been on the 15-day disabled list since March 30 with a right hamstring injury, will begin a rehab assignment at Class A Potomac on Saturday.
- Injured Cubs OF Alfonso Soriano worked out before Friday night's game. "I think I'll be available to play on May 1," he said. Soriano will work out again on Sunday.
- Chicago LHP Rich Hill, normally a starter, could be used in relief on Saturday or Sunday, Piniella said.