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Armas, Nats fall in series finale

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2006

MIAMI -- Tony Armas Jr. had faced just five batters, and the rout was on.

With key regulars getting the night off and a lineup that resembled a Class AAA affiliate, the Washington Nationals desperately needed a good outing.

Instead, Armas allowed hits to Florida's first five batters, and Miguel Cabrera finished with two home runs and four RBI to lead the Marlins to a 9-7 victory before 11,318 at Dolphin Stadium and complete a three-game sweep that sent Washington to its fifth straight loss.

Following the game, club general manager Jim Bowden, assistant general manager Tony Siegle and manager Frank Robinson held a closed door meeting and didn't emerge until about 15 minutes before the team bus was scheduled to leave for the airport.

The Nationals (54-73) are now a season-worst 19 games under .500. They are 1-5 on this nine-game, three-city road trip that resumes tomorrow night in Atlanta at Turner Field.

"It was just letting off a little steam, each one of us and all of us," Robinson said of the meeting. "We're all frustrated the way we've been playing, especially on this road trip. It's not fun, and it's not enjoyable, and it kind of built up tonight. And [we] just [needed to] get it out of our system, and hopefully we can get this thing turned around, straightened out and win some ballgames."

Cabrera went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and a walk. Rookie left-hander Scott Olsen (10-7) picked up the win and became the third rookie 10-game winner on the Marlins staff, joining Ricky Nolasco (11 wins) and Josh Johnson (11). The three become the first trio of rookie teammates to win 10 games apiece since Joe Black (15-4), Billy Loes (13-8) and Ben Wade (11-9) of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Nationals gave Armas (8-9) an early lead. Shortstop Felipe Lopez singled up the middle, and cleanup hitter Alex Escobar knocked Lopez in with a double into the gap in left field.

Armas failed to protect the lead. To start the game, Hanley Ramirez singled. Dan Uggla tripled to the right-field corner. Cabrera singled. Josh Willingham singled. Mike Jacobs singled to load the bases, and Cabrera later scored on a groundout. Robinson quickly got some relievers to warm up with the Nationals down 3-1.

"It's tough when you're feeling good and have an outing like this," Armas said. "I've got to get used to going out there and competing more. I'm the only one that can do that. Nobody is going to do it for me."

Armas' problems continued into the second inning. That's as far as Robinson let his starter go. In just 12/3 innings, Armas allowed eight runs (five earned) on 10 hits and two walks. Florida had an 8-1 lead after two innings.

"He just didn't have anything. His pitches were flat, and his location was horrible," Robinson said.

Cabrera belted a controversial two-run homer to straightaway center field in the second. At first, Cabrera's 21st homer of the season was ruled a double because the ball bounced near the top of the wall and back into play. The umpiring crew huddled together for a few minutes before changing Cabrera's hit to a home run.

Replays showed Cabrera's ball landed about a foot over the 404-foot wall and then caromed back onto the field after it struck a metal railing holding down a tarp for the center field batter's eye. Cabrera's first homer gave the Marlins a 5-1 lead.

"I heard the railing. I didn't hear the ball touching any padding," said Escobar, the Nationals' center fielder . "I think it was the right decision from the umpires."

The Marlins (60-66) have given Armas fits his entire career. He is 3-11 in 17 career starts against the Marlins.

The Nationals' poor fielding didn't help matters, either. The club committed three errors that led to three unearned runs. The previous night, two eighth-inning errors led to a 7-5 loss. Last night's errors pushed the club's total to 106 for the season, the most in baseball.

Even with Armas finished for the night, Cabrera wasn't done bashing Nationals pitching. The All-Star third baseman homered off Chris Schroder to give the Marlins a 9-2 lead in the third inning.

Cabrera's estimated 411-foot blast was the 100th home run of his career. Cabrera became just the fifth active player to reach 100 home runs before his 24th birthday. The others are Ken Griffey Jr. (132), Alex Rodriguez (128), Andruw Jones (120) and Albert Pujols (114). Cabrera became the sixth-youngest player to reach 100 home runs in major league history at 23 years, 127 days.

The Nationals added three home runs, but it was too late. Austin Kearns hit his career-high 19th home run of the season -- third with the Nationals -- to make it 9-3 in the fifth. Utility infielder Henry Mateo hit his first major league home run in the eighth to trim the deficit to 9-4. And first baseman Daryle Ward smashed a three-run shot with two outs in the ninth for his sixth home run of the season.