MIAMI — One has a World Series MVP trophy sitting on his mantel. The other won a spot in the Opening Day rotation only after one of the regulars went on the disabled list.
For six innings yesterday, though, Washington Nationals right-hander John Patterson matched Florida Marlins ace Josh Beckett pitch for pitch. When Beckett went out and retired 14 straight batters, Patterson responded by mowing down 11 in a row of his own. When Beckett put up six straight scoreless innings, Patterson put up six straight zeroes.
And then with one slightly misplaced pitch in the seventh, Patterson at long last succumbed. Paul Lo Duca’s two-run double down the right-field line broke a scoreless tie, and by the time the Nationals finally stopped the bleeding, they were on the wrong end of an 8-0 blowout at Dolphins Stadium.
“It’s frustrating for us to have a guy go out there and pitch such a great game,” Washington center fielder Brad Wilkerson said. “You couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Maybe not, but Beckett did give the Marlins more. The 24-year-old right-hander tossed a shutout, the second of his career and the second thrown against the Nationals this weekend.
Two days after looking helpless against Florida left-hander Dontrelle Willis in a 9-0 loss, Washington again was done in by a dominating pitching performance. Beckett, looking much like the guy who carried the Marlins to the 2003 World Series title over the New York Yankees, allowed just five hits, walked one and struck out 11.
The Nationals’ only real chance to score came in the first inning, when Jose Guillen doubled with Nick Johnson on first and two out. Johnson, though, tried to score on the play and was easily thrown out. After that, Beckett was unstoppable.
“We made him look outstanding,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He had good stuff, he mixed up his pitches, moved around in the strike zone. We didn’t do anything against him.”
Washington’s hitters have seen plenty of Beckett over the last month — he posted a 0.95 ERA in three spring training starts against them — and they will be glad not to see him again for a while.
Wilkerson, for one, looked plenty baffled by Beckett (2-0) yesterday. The Nationals’ leadoff hitter went 1-for-4 and struck out three times.
“You just never knew what to look for,” Wilkerson said. “It seemed like all day I’d look for a pitch, and then he’d throw a different pitch. I never could seem to get on him. … He did it to the Yankees in the World Series. When he’s on, he’s tough to beat.”
Patterson (0-1) was mighty tough himself in his first appearance of the season. The lanky right-hander, who was destined for the bullpen before No. 2 starter Tony Armas Jr. landed on the 15-day DL with a pulled groin, pitched shutout ball for six innings and entered the seventh having retired 11 straight batters.
Patterson, though, opened the inning by surrendering a single to Carlos Delgado and later walked Juan Encarnacion. After striking out Alex Gonzalez on a nasty slider, Patterson watched as Lo Duca came to the plate to pinch-hit for backup catcher Matt Treanor.
With Beckett in the on-deck circle, Robinson could have done something unconventional: intentionally walk Lo Duca to load the bases but force Marlins manager Jack McKeon to consider pinch-hitting for his ace pitcher. Robinson, though, said he never considered it. After throwing his first pitch for a strike, Patterson left a cut fastball just enough over the outside part of the plate, and Lo Duca stuck his bat out and sent the pitch down the right-field line for a two-run double before getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.
“It was a good pitch,” Patterson said. “I was just trying to run my cutter off the plate, get him to chase it. He chased it and was able to keep it fair.”
It got ugly after that. Reliever Joey Eischen gave up back-to-back singles in the eighth, with both runners eventually scoring. Antonio Osuna then entered and allowed six straight Marlins to reach base, the definitive blow coming from Encarnacion, who crushed his second grand slam of the young season to turn the game into a rout.
Despite two lopsided losses over the weekend, the Nationals left for Atlanta last night satisfied to have opened the season 3-3 on the road against two tough division rivals (the Phillies and Marlins). They will face another stiff challenge over the next three days at Turner Field, where the Braves will send Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson and John Thomson to the mound, before finally coming home to Washington for Thursday’s historic home opener at RFK Stadium.
“It seems like they always make us play more [stinking] games on the road than anybody else,” second baseman Jose Vidro said. “But hey, we’ve got to deal with it. I like this team. It never quits. We’re happy right now. We’ve got great chemistry in this clubhouse. We’re going to come back.
“When we go home, put our stuff back in our closets and can really concentrate and get all this out of the way, this team is going to be good. I like what we take to the ballpark every day.”