- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

The next time the Washington Nationals have a closed-door meeting they should talk about protecting their house. Since the All-Star break, the impenetrable fortress known as RFK Stadium has turned into a hospitality suite for opponents.

The Nationals met for nearly two hours before last night’s game to hash out differences and air grievances, but it didn’t do any immediate good. Afterward, they went out and lost their second straight to the San Diego Padres 3-2.

Once again in this sinking second half of the season, good pitching was negated by a lack of offense. The Nationals dropped to 4-8 at RFK since the All-Star break after posting the best home record in baseball (30-13) in the first half. It also was their 13th straight defeat in one-run games — another category where they sparkled in what now seems a very distant first half.

This loss before 38,076 at RFK dropped the Nationals (58-52) to 5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East race, but they remained just one game behind Houston in the National League wild-card race because of the Astros’ 5-2 loss to San Francisco.

“Just because you have a meeting doesn’t mean that you’re going to go out on a tear,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “I didn’t have the meeting to look for instant results.”

The Nationals’ customary offensive futility wasted an excellent start by right-hander Ryan Drese, who was visibly frustrated when Robinson yanked him in the seventh inning with a 2-2 count on leadoff man Dave Roberts and pinch hitter Eric Young on second. Robinson inserted left-hander Joey Eischen, who fanned Roberts but surrendered a double to Joe Randa that scored the eventual winning run.

Of getting removed during Roberts’ at-bat, Drese said, “I was very surprised — it’s never happened before. Of course I wanted to stay in the game.”

Nonetheless Drese (3-5) gave the Nationals a much-needed quality start. after lasting just four innings in his previous start. In his first career start against the Padres, Drese allowed just seven hits over the first six innings.

Without a long reliever in the bullpen after Sun-Woo Kim was waived Friday, it becomes imperative for the Nationals’ starters to eat innings. The NL West leaders scored their first run off Drese in the fourth inning and another one in the sixth.

Trailing 1-0 in the fourth, the Padres manufactured their first run. Robert Fick opened the fourth inning with a bunt down the third-base line on which Vinny Castilla had no chance of making a play. After Brian Giles singled, No.5 hitter Mark Sweeney sacrificed both runners up. Mark Loretta then flied deep to center to score Fick.

With the Nationals leading 2-1, San Diego again tied it in the sixth inning in similar fashion. Fick walked to open the inning and moved to third on Giles’ single. Sweeney then delivered a sacrifice fly to center.

The Nationals’ runs off Padres starter Pedro Astacio (1-2) came on a forceout by Jose Vidro in the third inning and Castilla’s seventh home run of the season in the fourth.

Castilla has feasted on Padres pitching throughout his 13-year career (.306, 33 home runs, 88 RBI). He jumped all over Astacio’s first pitch and launched a towering shot to straightaway center field, an estimated 420 feet from home plate. Castilla’s blast cleared the wall by about 10 feet.

For the Nationals, of course, it was not enough to win. The Padres will go for a series sweep this afternoon before the Nationals head off for a four-city, 13-game road trip.

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