- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

MIAMI — If the Washington Nationals are going to revive their season and complete an improbable run toward the playoffs, they’re going to have to do it with the same players that got them through Games1 to 105.

They’re going to have to get lights-out pitching performances from ace Livan Hernandez. They’re going to have to get timely hitting from a variety of sources, not just one or two big names. And they’re going to have to play the kind of crisp baseball they did through much of the first half of the season and again yesterday in a 4-2 win over the Florida Marlins.

There won’t be any flashy acquisitions courtesy of general manager Jim Bowden, who didn’t pull the trigger on any deals before the 4p.m. trade deadline. Just as Bowden told his players on Friday, they’re going to have to do it themselves.

“I believe in them,” Bowden reiterated as the Nationals were snapping a six-game losing streak. “I believe it wasn’t a fluke what they did. I believe they can do it again.”

When the Nationals play as they did yesterday before 30,397 at Dolphins Stadium, it’s easier to believe they can live up to their GM’s lofty expectations. Unfortunately, Washington (56-49) hadn’t played a game like this in a while, certainly not during the previous five games of this miserable road trip to Atlanta and Florida.

When the Nationals finally put all the pieces together and pulled off this cathartic victory, it was a thing of beauty, a reminder of the way this club played during its 20-6 month of June. They finished July only 9-18, and they still trail both the Atlanta Braves (five games) in the National League East and the Houston Astros (one game) in the NL wild-card race, but they proved it is possible to rediscover their old form.

In fact, this game bore a striking resemblance to another Sunday afternoon win at the end of a miserable road trip. Back on May29, the Nationals capped off a 2-7 trip with a gutsy 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Little did they know it at the time, but that win two months ago was a key turning point. The Nationals returned home and won 12 of their next 13 games to take over first place in the NL East.

“Hopefully this will propel us, have the same effect,” catcher Gary Bennett said.

The winning pitcher that day in May was Hernandez, who surrendered two runs over seven innings and threw 121 pitches. The big right-hander did himself one better yesterday: He lasted eight innings and this time threw 145 pitches despite searing 91-degree heat.

“I wouldn’t be able to wipe my fanny the next day if I did that,” said Marlins starter Brian Moehler, who couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning himself.

The Nationals have come to expect these kinds of performances from Hernandez, though. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace of this club. He has now won 13 games this season, several of which snapped a Washington losing streak.

“Whether it’s one game, two games, three games … whatever the streak is, he steps in and he does exactly what he did today and what he’s done all year,” Bennett said. “That’s exactly what an ace is.”

As he has done all year, Hernandez (13-4) won this game with more than his arm. He drove in a key run in the fifth inning, rapping a bases-loaded single to right field after the Marlins had intentionally walked Cristian Guzman.

He also made the heads-up play of the day, recognizing a suicide squeeze Florida had put on in the second and purposely throwing a high fastball that Moehler had no chance of getting the bat on. Bennett caught the ball and easily tagged out Alex Gonzalez.

“I knew something was coming,” Hernandez said. “I told Bennett I’m going to throw a fastball, and if it’s a squeeze, it’s going to be high.”

After Hernandez completed the seventh inning, his pitch count at 130, manager Frank Robinson was ready to call it a day. Hernandez, though, had other ideas. He held his right index finger up and said, “Let me throw one more.”

He then tossed a scoreless eighth inning before giving way in the ninth to closer Chad Cordero, who recorded his 35th save.

By then, the Nationals had scored four runs while pounding out 11 hits. Every starter but leadoff man Jamey Carroll had at least one hit. Cleanup man Nick Johnson had two, both of them big ones — an RBI double in the third and a 429-foot homer in the ninth.

This after Johnson reinjured his bruised right heel lunging to catch a line drive in the sixth. Johnson grimaced in pain as trainer Tim Abraham looked at him, but he refused to leave the game.

“It was painful,” Johnson said. “But I was staying in.”

That’s the kind of collective attitude the Nationals seemed to have earlier this season when things were going well. It’s the kind of attitude they’ll need down the stretch, especially now that they know there won’t be any major additions.

Bowden said he talked to 18 other general managers yesterday about possible deals. He made a last-ditch effort to procure shortstop Julio Lugo and/or reliever Danys Baez from Tampa Bay, but ultimately wasn’t willing to give up any of his top prospects (pitchers Armando Galarraga, Bill Bray, Jason Bergmann and infielders Kory Casto and Ian Desmond) nor current major-leaguers Cordero, John Patterson, Ryan Church or Luis Ayala.

“I’m not going to be selfish at the trade deadline and tear down what we have. That would be foolish,” Bowden said. “Unless we were able to get a No.1 or No.2 starter, which nobody got. Or we were able to get a No.3 or No.4 hitter, which nobody got. It wasn’t there for us. It wasn’t there for 29 other teams.”

So the Nationals will embark on the season’s final two months with their roster intact, hoping the players who carried them to this point will carry them one step farther.

“We have the pieces here to be successful,” Robinson said. “Believe me, we have the pieces here to win.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide