All good things must come to an end sometime. Face it: Livan Hernandez wasn’t going to make it through the rest of the season without losing another game.
In fact, the way he has pitched for the last three months, the Washington Nationals’ ace was more than entitled to one sub-par evening.
That’s what Hernandez had to offer last night in a 5-3 loss to the New York Mets. Five runs and eight hits in seven-plus innings is hardly considered sub-par for most ordinary major-league pitchers these days, but Hernandez by now has proved he’s no ordinary pitcher.
Hernandez simply doesn’t give up five runs a game. He had done it just twice in his previous 18 starts — his only two losses of the season — and hadn’t done it at all since April 19.
“What can you say about the man? He’s been carrying us,” said second baseman Jose Vidro, who knew that even from his outside vantage point on the disabled list the last two months.
This was a night for streaks to end, though. Hernandez’s run of wins was halted at 11, and Washington’s run of victorious home series was halted at nine, much to the chagrin of 38,148 at RFK Stadium.
The Nationals need to win this afternoon to salvage a four-game series split with the Mets. Not since the Philadelphia Phillies took two of three in late April has Washington dropped a series at RFK.
“We’ve got to get it back together,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Get a little more fire and a little more determination and want to get it done.”
Robinson would have liked to see a little more determination from the Nationals (51-33) against Tom Glavine last night, but they managed just three runs despite getting nine hits in 52/3 innings off the savvy New York left-hander.
It was a slightly better effort than the last time Washington faced Glavine — a 3-1 loss April 22 — but it still wasn’t enough for Robinson’s tastes. Just as he did that night at Shea Stadium, Robinson was critical of his team’s approach at the plate. Instead of following the game plan against Glavine — trying to hit the ball the other way — the Nationals frequently tried to pull it and wound up paying for it.
“That’s where he kills you,” Robinson said of Glavine, who has beaten the Expos/Nationals 29 times in his career. “He’s been making his living like that for a long time, and he got it done tonight that way against us. You just can’t go up there, approach him like that and be successful.”
Washington’s only success against Glavine (6-7) last night came during a three-run fourth inning, when several hitters did manage to stick with the plan. Marlon Byrd executed a perfect hit-and-run, Jamey Carroll drove in the night’s first run with an opposite-field single and Brad Wilkerson drove in two more with a base hit up the middle.
“You saw when we did it, we scored three runs,” Carroll said. “You’ve just got to stay within yourself with him. He’s not going to give in.”
The Nationals’ only other chance to really take it to Glavine came in the sixth, when they loaded the bases on an error and two walks and forced Mets manager Willie Randolph to bring in reliever Aaron Heilman to face Jose Guillen.
Heilman did his job. He got Guillen to hit a harmless grounder to second, ending the inning and preserving New York’s lead.
It was a frustrating moment for Guillen, who was still miffed about getting plunked by Pedro Martinez and launching an ill-advised throw to the plate the previous night.
Guillen had cooled off considerably in the 24 hours between games, insisting before last night’s game that “it’s over” but stressing that “every time I get hit, it’s a wake-up call for me.”
Perhaps Hernandez’s rare off night will serve as a wake-up call of its own.
Hernandez (12-3) got himself into early trouble, nothing new for the big right-hander. A hanging curveball to Mike Cameron in the first turned into a solo home run, and a walk to Glavine loaded the bases in the second. Hernandez, though, got out of that jam and appeared ready to cruise from there on out.
Unfortunately for the Nationals, he hit a snag in the sixth, loading the bases with nobody out for Marlon Anderson. Hernandez got what he wanted out of the Mets’ No. 6 hitter — a ground ball — but not in the manner he wanted it, a broken-bat dribbler down the third-base line for an RBI single.
Light-hitting backup catcher Ramon Castro then roped a two-run single to give New York the lead, and even though the Mets ran themselves out of a potentially huge inning, they had already done enough damage.
They had done what Hernandez’s 14 previous opponents could not: beat the Washington ace and end his spectacular first half on a sour note.
“That’s baseball. You can’t be perfect all the time,” said Hernandez, who along with closer Chad Cordero will represent the Nationals at Tuesday’s All-Star Game. “It’s not easy to win 11 straight. And it’s not easy to win 12 games in the first half. But I’ll come back and start the second half [next Thursday against Milwaukee] good.”