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BALTIMORE — This was the opportunity Austin Kearns had been seeking, a chance to snap out of the offensive funk that has defined his miserable season and contribute a meaningful hit to the Washington Nationals in a game-changing situation.
Eighth inning. Bases loaded. Two outs. Nationals trailing the Baltimore Orioles by a run. Full count.
“I felt pretty good,” he said later. “That situation, I felt like I was going to get it done.”
Kearns’ shining moment will have to wait at least another day.
Washington’s struggling right fielder struck out, swinging at a wicked sinker from Baltimore reliever Jim Johnson and stranding the tying and potential go-ahead runs on base, the key moment in the Orioles’ 6-5 victory at Camden Yards and another moment of frustration for Kearns in a season loaded with them.
The raw stats — a .187 average, six extra-base hits in 42 games — are bad enough, but they don’t take into account the situations Kearns has failed in repeatedly all season. The runners he has stranded on base. The poor swings he has taken. The mounting frustration and dejection that comes from the worst slump of his professional career.
“I obviously expect a lot out of myself,” he said. “I don’t think you ever expect to go through something like this. It’s definitely something that’s going to make you better in the long run.”
Whether Kearns, who turns 28 on Tuesday, emerges from this horrid stretch or not, he continues to have a clubhouse full of supporters, beginning with his manager.
“I pull hard for him, everybody knows, because he’s such a hard-nosed player and a professional,” Manny Acta said. “Obviously I want him to do well. It’s a long season. He’s a pro, and he’ll continue to grind it out and things will change for him.”
Kearns’ strikeout wouldn’t have merited much conversation had the game continued on the path it was heading most of the night. The Orioles were in control nearly from the beginning, taking a 6-2 lead on home runs by Nick Markakis and Jay Payton, the two big blows against Odalis Perez on an off-night for the Washington left-hander.
A model of consistency through his first eight starts, Perez (1-4) has struggled in his last two outings. After allowing 11 hits last week in New York (despite earning his first win), he was roughed up last night for six runs on 10 hits and two walks.
“I was bad,” he said. “I couldn’t keep the game on the line. It was one of those games where you believe before the game warming up that it will be one of the best games. But by the time the game starts, everything is different. It’s like they knew what was coming.”
Perez’s battery mate, Jesus Flores, didn’t particularly enjoy his night, either, certainly not when he was ejected by plate umpire Tim McClelland after questioning a borderline ball four call to Markakis in the sixth inning.
Flores insisted he did nothing other than ask McClelland where the pitch was.
“I don’t really say anything to him,” he said. “And that’s why I was mad about it after he threw me out of the game. That was the only question I made to him.”
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