- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

There is nothing the Detroit Tigers don’t do well. They hit for power throughout a stacked lineup. They get quality pitching from the top of the rotation to the back end of the bullpen. They know when to take the extra base. They know how to battle through a tough at-bat.

And they know how to jump on an unsuspecting young ballclub like the Washington Nationals and pound it into submission. Repeatedly.

“That’s a good team, man,” right fielder Austin Kearns said following the Tigers‘ latest triumph, an 8-4 victory last night before 26,637 at RFK Stadium. “That’s a team that’s, I guess, a championship caliber team. When you see them up close, instead of just watching them on TV, you realize you better play a pretty perfect game to win.”

The Nationals didn’t come close to perfection during this three-game thumping. In sweeping the series, the defending American League champs outscored Washington 32-13 and looked plenty at home in a ballpark they hadn’t seen for 36 years.

They won’t be back anytime soon, which has to be a comforting thought to a Nationals team that entered this series feeling good about itself but exits it wounded emotionally (though thankfully not physically) after getting beaten in every phase of the game.

Washington (30-42) had gone up against good National League teams this season: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves. But none could compare with the Tigers squad that just marched through town.

“No doubt that’s the best team we’ve faced,” catcher Brian Schneider said.

It’s hard to dispute the notion. The Tigers (42-29) do just about everything right, and they’re particularly skilled at putting together big innings. In this series alone, Detroit had a six-run inning, a four-run inning and two five-run innings, the latest of which assured last night’s win.

Tied 3-3 in the sixth, the Tigers took control of the game, coaxing a pair of walks around a perfectly placed hit-and-run single off reliever Saul Rivera (1-2). With the bases loaded and none out, Jesus Colome entered from the bullpen but was no match for this potent lineup.

Brandon Inge delivered the go-ahead run with a single to right. No. 8 hitter Omar Infante then won the premier battle of the night, fouling off eight of Colome’s offerings before finally lining an RBI single to right on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.

“He took a great at-bat,” Colome said. “I threw a lot of good pitches: fastball, slider, fastball, slider. He fouled, fouled, fouled. He took a good at-bat. That’s why he got a base hit.”

A two-run single by Curtis Granderson added to the onslaught, and by the time Colome finally got out of the inning, the Tigers had batted around for the fifth time in six games.

“What can I say? They’re a great ballclub,” manager Manny Acta said. “They’ve got everything you want. We did everything we could. … They even beat up on our strength, which is our bullpen. Good team. We just got outplayed.”

The sixth-inning rally came after a fairly effective start by Nationals left-hander Mike Bacsik, who allowed three runs over five innings but at one point retired eight straight batters.

Bacsik’s only real mistake, if it can be deemed one, was an 0-2 curveball to Carlos Guillen in the fourth. Bacsik wanted to bounce the pitch off the plate, and though he missed a tad high, it still was well below the strike zone. To everyone’s surprise, Guillen golfed it off the top of the left-field fence and over for a two-run homer.

“He took a good pitch and hit it out of the park,” Bacsik said.

Bacsik didn’t figure in the decision because his teammates tied the game with a three-run fourth that featured a flurry of clutch hits by Dmitri Young, Kearns and Ryan Church and a couple of fortuitous breaks, including a throwing error by starter Jeremy Bonderman (8-0) and a strikeout-wild pitch combo that allowed Kearns to score from third after Schneider whiffed at a ball in the dirt.

But that’s about all the Nationals managed at the plate. The addition of center fielder Brandon Watson, fresh off a record-setting, 43-game hit streak for Class AAA Columbus, had no effect. Watson reverted to his old, slap-hitting ways during an 0-for-3 night and was benched with the bases loaded in the eighth in favor of Ronnie Belliard, who flew out to kill the threat.

Still, it was hard to wipe the smile off Watson’s face following his first game in the majors in almost a year.

“I was out of baseball Opening Day,” the 25-year-old said. “Today is a good day for me to be back. I’m just going to have fun with it.”

Watson and the rest of the Nationals surely will have more fun once the best-hitting and perhaps best overall team in the big leagues leaves town.



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