- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

Their ace had a tirade in the clubhouse. They’re losing games to mediocre and bad teams. They’re not hitting. And after last night’s 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros, the Washington Nationals no longer are in sole possession of first place in the National League East.

The Nationals (54-42) had been alone at the top of the division since June5 before dropping into a tie with the Atlanta Braves last night. Washington has lost eight of its last 10 games and 11 of 15.

“We have to get this thing going before we fall too far behind,” manager Frank Robinson said after the latest loss before 36,840 at RFK Stadium.

The last thing this struggling outfit needs is more bad news on the injury front, but star right fielder Jose Guillen received a cortisone shot in his ailing left shoulder after the game and said he may need to sit out awhile.

“The outside pitches are giving me a problem in all these series. I just can’t get to it, and that’s the way they’ve been pitching me,” said Guillen, who leads the Nationals with 19 home runs and 54 RBI. “[Sitting out] is something I’m going to discuss with the doctor right now because I’m not really helping myself and I don’t think I’m really helping the team either by the way I’m swinging the bat.”

Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt (13-8) silenced all the Nationals’ bats last night. Oswalt, who came into the game 0-3 with a 5.59 ERA in three starts against NL East teams, scattered just six hits and struck out six in eight innings.

“He was keeping us off balance and keeping his fastball down in the zone,” Brad Wilkerson said. “He really didn’t give us an opportunity.”

Things don’t get any easier for the Nationals tonight when the Astros trot out future Hall of Famer right-hander Roger Clemens (7-4, 1.47 ERA) in search of his 336th victory.

The Astros (49-46) rolled into RFK fresh off a four-game sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh, but Nationals starter Esteban Loaiza, pitched well enough to win.

Loaiza (6-6, 3.56 ERA) allowed just three runs — two earned — in seven innings. He surrendered 11 hits but did not walk a batter.

A defensive breakdown by the Nationals allowed the Astros to break a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with an unearned run. Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus opened by stroking singles.

With Everett on second, Oswalt dropped a bunt in front of the plate. First baseman Wilkerson scooped up the bunt and went to third trying to force Everett. But third baseman Carlos Baerga mishandled Wilkerson’s throw, and the ball rolled about 15 to 20 feet in foul territory. Everett dashed home and the Astros led 1-0.

Shortstop Jamey Carroll broke to cover third base on the play and found Baerga standing on the bag.

Robinson said that’s the way the play was designed, but it definitely lacked proper execution.

“It looked like they were kind of confused over there a little bit,” Wilkerson said.

The Astros extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth. Mike Lamb opened the inning with his fourth home run, a towering shot into the right-field bullpen that gave the Astros a 2-0 lead.

With one out, Everett, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, singled to left and stole second. Oswalt’s single up the middle drove in Everett.

Robinson tinkered with his lineup by dropping Wilkerson and Brian Schneider down in the order. On Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies, Wilkerson and Schneider batted third and fifth, respectively. Last night Wilkerson and Schneider (2-for-4) were the Nationals’ sixth and seventh hitters.

The Nationals mounted a ninth-inning comeback just when it looked like they were going to be shut out for the fifth time this season. Preston Wilson belted a two-run homer with one out to cut the deficit to one run before Wilkerson and Schneider were retired.

With Ryan Church at second, Wilson smashed his first-ever homer at RFK into the left-field bullpen. It was Wilson’s 17th homer of the season and his second with the Nationals.

Wilson, who was acquired in a July 13 trade that sent right-hander Zach Day and minor league outfielder J.J. Davis to the Rockies, homered in his first at-bat as a National on July 14 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

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