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Bobbled beginning

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

NEW YORK -- Like the game's most crucial call, Opening Day just didn't go the Washington Nationals' way.

First base umpire Tim Tschida called Alfonso Soriano out at home plate in the eighth inning even though Soriano appeared to have beaten New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca's tag for the game-tying run. Replays showed Lo Duca dropped the ball, but the call resulted in a 3-2 victory for the Mets in front of a record Opening Day crowd of 54,371 at Shea Stadium.

"My teammates said [Lo Duca] dropped the ball, but I haven't had time to look at the play," said Soriano, who went 2-for-3 in his Nationals debut. "I never saw [the ball pop out]. I tried to put my hand on home plate, and I saw the umpire call me out, so I don't know if he dropped the ball or not. I think my hand was in."

With Soriano on first, rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman doubled into the left-field corner. Third-base umpire Laz Diaz ran out to make sure Zimmerman's drive landed in fair territory. That brought home plate umpire Rick Reed up the line to cover third base. To complete a normal rotation, Tschida came down the first-base line to monitor home plate.

Soriano slid headfirst on the play and slipped his left hand between Lo Duca's legs to tag the plate. He had to avoid Zimmerman's bat, which lay just outside the batter's box because neither the batboy nor the on-deck hitter, shortstop Royce Clayton, moved it out of the way.

Lo Duca's tag appeared to come after Soriano touched the plate. Either way, the ball popped out of Lo Duca's glove, though the veteran catcher did a great job of selling the tag, holding the ball up afterward as if it never fell from his grasp.

"I'm getting out there just telling him to slide," Clayton said. "Very rarely do you see a bat laying right in front of the plate. Sometimes the umpire might come out and kick it out and even catch it, but it was a little ways up the line. It was the way that bat fell. When I saw the bat laying there after he slid, I don't know how he didn't run right into it."

The Nationals were troubled yesterday by some of the same problems they encountered in their first season in Washington. The Nationals went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and outhit the Mets 12-10 but managed just two runs.

"It was frustrating while the game was going on because you know you're not going to have a lot of opportunities," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "Offensively, we couldn't get the big hit."

The Nationals had scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings, but they stranded four baserunners.

Clayton tied the game 1-1 in the fourth with a sacrifice fly to center. Jose Vidro accounted for the Nationals' other run with a run-scoring single in the seventh inning.

Vidro, who went 3-for-5, was involved in the second biggest play of the game. He lined a ball into the gap in left-center in the ninth inning, but Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran threw him out at second base to end the game.

"It's two outs in the ninth -- you want me at second base," Vidro said. "I was aggressive as soon as I hit the ball. It took a perfect throw. If you're too scared to be aggressive, then you're in the wrong business."

Mets starter Tom Glavine (1-0) won his 276th career game, and Billy Wagner picked up his first save with the Mets.

Nationals ace Livan Hernandez (0-1) allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out four. His only mistake was leaving a fastball up in the strike zone to Mets third baseman David Wright to lead off the sixth. Wright hit it 395 feet for a solo home run to give the Mets a 3-1 lead.

"It was a little cold," Hernandez said. "I haven't pitched in this cold for a long time. I'm not used to it."

Mets right fielder Xavier Nady went 4-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI. He became just the second player in club history to collect four hits in his Mets debut.

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