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Bad luck continues for Nats’ Bergmann

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

The Jason Bergmann Hard Luck Express rolled right along yesterday.

The Washington Nationals right-hander allowed just two hits -- one, albeit, a solo home run -- through seven innings, but the frustrating result was the same: another strong start with no victory to show for it. Carlos Beltran's towering homer to the right-field bullpen in the sixth inning gave the New York Mets all the offense they would need in a 1-0 victory over the Nationals before 27,361 at RFK Stadium.

For Bergmann, it's starting to look like a shutout is the only way he will get his first win of the season and the first of his career as a starter. Yesterday's stellar performance marked Bergmann's fourth straight quality start without a win.

"It's not about me," said Bergmann, who dropped to 0-2 with a 2.79 ERA after yesterday's gem. "Every day I go out there, they give me the opportunity to go out there and pitch for as long as I can. I'm fortunate that I pitched the seventh inning today and we had a chance to win all day."

Failure to execute cost the Nationals (8-17) that chance for victory. Three times Washington was unable to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance baserunners -- including one by Bergmann, who failed to move Chris Snelling to second base in the third inning.

"I didn't get a bunt down; that's a part of pitching," Bergmann said. "That's something that I'm going to need to work on, but there's more than one aspect of the game here. I just did the pitching part."

Bergmann's failure, at least, occurred early when there were plenty of innings left in which to score some runs. A failed sacrifice bunt by backup catcher Jesus Flores with no outs in the seventh proved to be even more costly. With Austin Kearns, who led off the inning with a double, on second and Ryan Church on first, Flores laid down a bunt along the first-base line. Hard-charging first baseman Julio Franco picked up the ball and threw to third, forcing out Kearns.

Mets starter John Maine then struck out Snelling and pinch hitter Robert Fick to end the inning and the Nationals' best run-scoring threat of the game.

"I keep stressing that we have to play close to perfect baseball in situations like that," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "How many times are we going to beat the Mets 2-1 or 1-0 or something? You have to get the bunt down and the play when we have to, and we just didn't do it today."

Flores led off the ninth with a single up the middle. Infielder Josh Wilson stepped in as a pinch hitter for Snelling and fouled off two pitches from Billy Wagner while trying to bunt before Wagner struck him out swinging with a 96 mph fastball. The next two batters popped up to end the game.

"It's just not executing, and that's something that I definitely don't take lightly," Wilson said of his failed bunt attempt. "That's one of my jobs, to go and come in and get a bunt down. Without it getting done, [that] is unacceptable."

The Mets (15-8) entered the series as baseball's best-hitting team with a .295 average. The Nationals won the opener on Friday, lost Saturday's 12-inning game 6-2 and yesterday outhit the Mets 6-3 but lost by failing to execute the fundamentals.

"They hit a home run and got a run," shortstop Felipe Lopez said. "It was just that one swing."

Said Bergmann: "It was a missed spot. It was supposed to be a fastball in, and it rode up and away. Hey, he's good. He hit the ball out, and that's the game."

The Mets also got a great performance out of Maine, who improved to 4-0 this season. Maine allowed three hits through seven innings and struck out a career-high eight batters.

Acta, who coached with the Mets the past two seasons, remembered Maine as a "one-pitch type of guy" who relied heavily on his fastball.

"He's more like a three-pitch guy now," Acta said. "He's got a good change-up. He throws a slider that he backdoors the left-handers with. So he's made a lot of progress."