- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

PHOENIX — Someday down the road, the Washington Nationals may look at Tony Armas’ start last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks as the beginning of something special, the night the Nationals found the missing piece to their beleaguered pitching staff.

For now, though, it’s hard to focus on the overwhelming positives from Armas’ 2005 debut and ignore the one huge blemish on his pitching line — a three-run homer to Troy Glaus in the sixth inning that proved to be the deciding blow in Arizona’s 3-2 victory.

Glaus’ 432-foot bomb on a 3-0 fastball ruined Armas’ otherwise spectacular night and kept the Nationals from their 11th straight win over the Diamondbacks. They’ll now try to rebound in today’s finale at Bank One Ballpark and head home with a still-impressive 6-3 record on this road trip.

Making his first appearance of the season after spending the last six weeks on the disabled list with a pulled groin, Armas figured to have a ways to go before he’d catch up to the rest of the pitching staff. For 5[2/3] innings last night, he had no catching up to do. The way Armas was pitching, he was setting the pace for the rest of the league.

After surrendering a leadoff walk to Craig Counsell in the first, Armas (0-1) was downright dominant. He retired the Diamondbacks’ next 11 hitters and entered the sixth with a one-hit shutout.

Perhaps more important to Nationals officials, Armas showed no ill effects from either his groin or his previous shoulder injuries, regularly reaching the low 90s with his fastball and making a couple of deft maneuvers in the field.

Then, over the course of one eight-pitch sequence in the sixth inning, it all came crashing down.

Pitching with a 2-0 lead, Armas opened the inning by issuing a leadoff walk to pinch-hitter Quinton McCracken, but the free pass seemed harmless enough when Armas retired the next two batters on groundballs.

A subsequent, four-pitch walk to Luis Gonzalez wasn’t harmless. For one reason or another, Armas suddenly lost his command, whether he was trying to pitch around Gonzalez or not. And matters only got worse when Glaus — the slugger who already had two hard-hit balls off Armas — took three straight balls to open his at-bat.

Fortunately, Armas found the strike on the eighth pitch of the sequence. Unfortunately, it was a fastball right down the pipe, and Glaus hammered it to left-center for a three-run homer, his league-leading 10th of the season.

One more single by Shawn Green and Armas’ once-brilliant night came to an unceremonious end.

As good as Armas was early on, Arizona starter Shawn Estes actually was the game’s dominating pitcher for three innings, setting Washington down in order the first time through the lineup. The Nationals finally started chipping away at the veteran left-hander in the fourth, and though they came away with nothing to show for it after Jeffrey Hammonds struck out with the bases loaded, the tone had been set.

Sure enough, Washington fired right back in the fifth, with the suddenly fleet-of-foot Carlos Baerga legging out an infield single, then taking third on Brian Schneider’s double to right. After Armas struck out, Brad Wilkerson worked the count full against Estes (3-3) — perhaps catching a break on a check swing that would have been strike three — and then roped a double to right. Both runners scored, and Nationals had a 2-0 lead.

The way Armas was pitching, that figured to be enough support, and so Washington still might not have been concerned about the three runners it stranded in the sixth. But once Glaus’ moonshot gave the Diamondbacks the lead, those missed opportunities suddenly loomed large.

In fact, the Nationals wound up stranding 13 men in the game and thrice left the bases loaded — including in the eighth inning, when Arizona closer Brandon Lyon (12 saves) was called into early service and struck out Jamey Carroll to quash yet another Washington rally.

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