SAN FRANCISCO (AP) With his team chasing the Chicago Cubs for the best record in baseball, Washington manager Dusty Baker is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the Nationals close - even if it means pulling closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.
While it might not be the move he cherishes, it's one Baker may make even more down the stretch as Papelbon struggles through one of his roughest stretches of the season.
Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and scored a run, Trea Turner added two hits and an RBI and the Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 4-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a key four-game series between division leaders.
Papelbon went into the game with 19 saves and retired one batter in the ninth before getting pulled in favor of Shawn Kelley after giving up a single and walk.
''I'm sure he felt badly but I had to do what I had to do to win the ballgame,'' Baker said of his closer. ''I'm sure that Pap didn't like it but I'm sure that he understands.''
Papelbon has struggled over the past week. He took the loss Sunday against San Diego and again on Tuesday in Cleveland before being unable to close out the win in San Francisco.
''The object is to win the game,'' Papelbon said. ''Do what you can do to win the game.''
Bryce Harper doubled in a run while Anthony Rendon had two hits to help the Nationals beat All-Star game starter Johnny Cueto (13-3) in Baker's return to AT&T Park. Baker won 840 games as the Giants manager from 1993-2002.
San Francisco scored a run in the ninth to pull within 4-2 before Kelley struck out Angel Pagan with the bases loaded to end it and get his fifth save.
''I was just told to be ready,'' Kelley said. ''I had plenty of time to get loose. Basically was just sitting down there waiting to see Dusty poke his head out. When he did I knew it was my turn.''
The two teams went into the game with identical 59-42 records before Washington won to join the Chicago Cubs (61-40) as the only teams in the majors with at least 60 wins.
Nationals starter Tanner Roark (10-6) allowed one run over seven innings, striking out three and walking three. He also singled in a run as part of a three-run second inning.
Sammy Solis pitched the eighth while Papelbon, Oliver Perez and Kelley combined to retire the final three batters.
Washington jumped on Cueto early with four consecutive two-out singles and a walk in the second inning. Danny Espinosa, Roark and Turner each had an RBI in the inning.
Cueto lasted only five innings, matching his shortest outing of the season. The right-hander allowed eight hits and three runs with three strikeouts and two walks.
The Giants went into the day hitting .157 with runners in scoring position since the break and squandered a big opportunity in the fourth after Brandon Crawford's one-out triple. Brandon Belt struck out looking and Crawford was caught trying to advance when a pitch from Roark bounced in front of the plate.
''Man we could've used a big hit there to really pick this club up when you're in a streak like this, but they got out of it,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ''We just couldn't quite finish it there in the ninth. It would've done a lot for the club.''
Harper's RBI double in the sixth drove in Turner and made it 4-1.
WERTH'S STREAK REACHES 31
Jayson Werth singled in the fifth to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 31 games, the longest active streak in the majors.
Giants: 2B Joe Panik was activated from the disabled list. Panik missed 23 games with concussion. ... OF Hunter Pence (hamstring) could come off the disabled list this weekend. ... LHP Josh Osich was placed on the 15-day DL with a forearm strain. .... LHP Matt Reynolds was called up from Sacramento. ... INF Grant Green was designated for assignment.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (10-6) faces San Francisco for just the second time since taking a no-decision against the Giants in Game 4 of the 2012 World Series when he was with the Detroit Tigers.
Giants: RHP Jeff Samardzija (9-6) makes his fifth career start against Washington. Samardzija is attempting to become the third San Francisco pitcher to reach double digits in wins this season.