- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

DENVER — These are the kind of games the Washington Nationals rarely have savored in the last two months. They are the kind of games a struggling club needs, the kind that allow a manager to breathe easy and simply enjoy a night at the ballpark for a change.

With a 8-0 laugher over the Colorado Rockies last night, the Nationals got all that — and a little bonus. They won by more than three runs for only the third time in 47 games, and they picked up a game on the Houston Astros (1-0 losers to the Pittsburgh Pirates) in the wild-card race. (They now trail by two.)

More importantly, they won their second straight game at Coors Field, ensuring only their second victorious series in their last 11.

“We haven’t given up,” winning pitcher Tony Armas Jr. said. “A lot of people are talking a lot of trash about us, but every time we go out there, we’re battling. There’s a lot of season left. Who knows what can happen?”

Manager Frank Robinson came to town saying his club had to win two games from the last-place Rockies. Washington (61-55) already has made good on that. Now John Patterson will go for the sweep.

Robinson only can hope his lights-out right-hander shuts down Colorado as Armas (7-5), Mike Stanton, Hector Carrasco and Joey Eischen did last night. Actually, he would prefer that Patterson allow a few less baserunners than the 19 last night’s quartet did.

Yes, the Rockies put 19 men on base (13 hits, five walks and an error) and did not score a run. The Rockies became the first major league team to have 13 hits and still be shut out since the Cleveland Indians had 14 hits against the Washington Senators on July 10, 1928. That, coupled with a light mist and 58-degree temperatures at Coors Field, made for a mostly miserable night for the crowd of 31,447.

The conditions were beautiful as far as the Nationals were concerned. They pounded out 13 hits of their own, got seven doubles from six different players, opened up a 4-0 lead after three and kept rolling.

“I wasn’t relaxed until that last out was made,” Robinson said.

There are plenty of reasons for the Nationals’ woes on offense, but perhaps chief among them has been their inability to come through in the clutch. Since the All-Star break, they were hitting .182 with runners in scoring position. That number dropped to .162 over the last six games.

So it had to be especially pleasing to Robinson when two of his least productive hitters (Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman) came up with huge back-to-back hits in the second. Castilla hit an opposite-field double on an 0-2 pitch from Byung-Hyun Kim, scoring Brian Schneider all the way from first. Moments later, Guzman lined a single over first baseman Todd Helton’s head, bringing Castilla around with the second run.

It was a monumental hit for Guzman, given his track record in such situations. Entering that at-bat, Washington’s beleaguered shortstop was hitting .101 with runners in scoring position. Narrow those situations down to only those with two outs, and he was hitting .048 (2-for-42).

“It’s nice to see things happening the right way,” Robinson said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

The Nationals gladly took clutch hit No.3 of the year from Guzman. And unlike on so many other occasions, they added more runs.

In the third, it was Jose Vidro and Nick Johnson with back-to-back doubles. Similarly beleaguered Preston Wilson then singled to right, bringing Johnson home to make it 4-0.

And still they weren’t done. Buoyed by rookie Brandon Watson’s bunt single, the Nationals added another run in the fifth. Watson scored on Guillen’s sacrifice fly to the warning track, though Johnson was doubled off first to end the inning.

No matter, one more set of back-to-back doubles — Wilson’s blooper to shallow center and Schneider’s rope down the first-base line — made it 6-0 and gave Armas plenty of cushion.

Armas didn’t really need it, though had they turned off the scoreboard, few would have realized the right-hander didn’t give up a run.

He gave up at least one hit in each of his six innings, including two in the first and three in the third, yet somehow managed to keep the Rockies from scoring.

Armas was on the receiving end of a spiffy, 3-6-1 double play in the first. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third with back-to-back shallow fly outs. And he and Schneider teamed up on a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play in the sixth.

All told, Armas gave up nine hits and two walks yet lowered his ERA from 4.64 to 4.33 in his first appearance since departing early Aug.3 because of tightness in his throwing shoulder.

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