- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

NEW YORK — When the Washington Nationals purchased Mike O’Connor’s contract from Class AAA New Orleans on Thursday, it was a desperation move.

It also worked. O’Connor allowed one run on two hits and two walks in seven innings to win his first major league game as the Nationals beat the Mets 6-2 last night at Shea Stadium.

When the Nationals purchased O’Connor’s contract, their starting rotation was in shambles, and even though few club officials deemed the 25-year-old left-hander ready for the big leagues, they hoped at best he could get them through a couple turns of the rotation before someone else was ready to return.

Someone, though, forgot to inform this soft-spoken kid from Ellicott City, Md., and George Washington University of the gameplan. Two starts into his major league career, he’s not pitching like a short-term fill-in but a guy intent on sticking around for the long haul.

The Nationals might have to re-evaluate their position on O’Connor after his dominant performance last night. Again displaying the poise of a veteran, not a pitcher who wasn’t even invited to major league camp this spring, he lead Washington (9-18) to a much-needed victory.

“I like what I see,” manager Frank Robinson said. “I like the way he conducts himself out there on the mound and goes about his business. … He seems to have excellent composure out there, veteran-type composure out there on the mound.”

O’Connor (1-1) has now thrown 12 innings in his career and given up just one earned run. Not bad for someone who hadn’t spent a day above Class A prior to this season, had met only a handful of his Nationals teammates and had never faced a single hitter on either the Cardinals’ or the Mets’ roster.

“I’m definitely feel more comfortable around everybody,” he said. “I mean, it was a little intimidating the first time coming in here. I didn’t go to big league camp or anything, so I don’t know too many guys here.”

They know him now. Thanks to O’Connor, the Nationals ended an otherwise miserable road trip on a positive note, ultimately winning two of six.

“This saved the road trip,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “Because 1-5, that’s terrible. So 2-4, that’s big going home. We need some momentum going home.”

Having played its last nine games against the National League’s top three teams — Cincinnati, St. Louis and New York — Washington now plays five straight at home against the NL’s two worst team to date: the Marlins and Pirates.

“We have to get on a roll,” Robinson said. “Hopefully this will get us going. We need it. We need it.”

Of course, it will help if O’Connor’s teammates pick up where he left off. The young lefty is proving you don’t need great stuff to be effective against major leaguers, only know-how and moxie.

When he surrendered a first inning homer to Paul Lo Duca last night, the doubters might have thought this was the beginning of the end. Instead, it was the beginning of another effective outing. O’Connor responded to the solo homer by retiring the next nine batters he faced.

He got into a little bit of trouble in the fourth, putting two on with two outs, but got Cliff Floyd to line out to end that rally and keep a one-hitter intact. Lo Duca wound up getting the Mets’ only other hit before the rookie departed following the seventh, having walked two and struck out six (including cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado twice).

“He sees Delgado, and he knows how good a player Delgado is,” Schneider said. “For him to trust his stuff and be able to throw his fastball in there, that’s what I enjoyed most about working with him tonight.”

And unlike the other night in St. Louis, O’Connor got some decent run support from his teammates. He took the mound with a 1-0 lead thanks to back-to-back doubles by Marlon Byrd and Marlon Anderson (starting at second base in place of Jose Vidro for one night).

Byrd also doubled to lead off the third, extending his impressive stretch while filling in for Ryan Church. The hit was Byrd’s ninth in 15 at-bats since Church was felled by the flu, and it could be enough to keep him in the lineup for a little while.

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