- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif — It had to end eventually, this magical run that catapulted the Washington Nationals from afterthoughts to the talk of the baseball world.

The Nationals just wish it didn’t have to end with such a resounding thud.

There’s no way to sugarcoat Washington’s 11-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels last night, though. This was ugly, the kind of ugly not seen from the Nationals in several weeks, certainly not during their now-defunct, 10-game winning streak.

There was no dramatic comeback on this night, no seventh-inning rally, no heroic performance from the bullpen. Only a lopsided loss to a fellow first-place club that kicked off this nine-game road trip the wrong way.

Losers for the first time since June 1, Washington (37-27) saw its lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East shrink to one game. Frank Robinson’s bunch had better straighten things out quickly or else that stranglehold on first place could easily slip away into the thick, Southern California night.

The Nationals reached such a lofty perch for a variety of reasons, but none was more important than the collective performances of their starting pitchers. Over the last 13 games (all at home), that unit combined to go 6-0 with a 2.02 ERA.

“They’ve been the key, as far as I’m concerned, to the success of this ballclub this year,” Robinson said before last night’s game. “They’ve been great. And that’s really taken a lot [of pressure] off the bullpen and allowed me to use the people in positions they have a chance to be successful in.”

Robinson got no such performance from Esteban Loaiza last night. The veteran right-hander was tagged for five runs and nine hits in three-plus innings, helping turn this one into a rout before many in the late-arriving crowd of 40,790 had a chance to settle into their seats.

Combine Loaiza’s shoddy start with an anemic offensive showing from the Nationals against Angels right-hander Paul Byrd and a one-sided outcome wasn’t surprising.

Washington managed all of four hits in six innings against Byrd (6-5), the lone run coming on Jose Guillen’s sixth-inning single to left.

That represented the one bright spot of an otherwise miserable night for Guillen in his return to Anaheim. Booed lustily at every opportunity, the former Angel struck out twice and played a clear second fiddle to his counterpart in right field, Vladimir Guerrero.

Guerrero, the former Expos superstar, was a one-man wrecking crew in his first appearance against his old club. The reigning American League MVP clubbed a three-run homer, drove in five and accounted for four of the Angels’ 20 hits.

The first nine of those came off Loaiza, who suffered through a rare bad outing.

There are only two members of the Nationals’ rotation who Robinson typically will stick with in a tight spot: Livan Hernandez and Loaiza. They are his two most-trusted veteran pitchers, and they are afforded the kind of good faith others like Zach Day and Tomo Ohka so desperately wanted.

So it was downright stunning when Robinson strode to the mound in the fourth and unceremoniously yanked the ball out of Loaiza’s hands. It was far and away Loaiza’s shortest outing of the year [-] he had lasted at least five innings every other time out — but it was also perhaps his least effective.

The right-hander was in trouble from the beginning. He surrendered four straight hits in the first inning, leading to two runs. He needed a fabulous throw from left fielder Ryan Church to the plate to get out of the second inning unscored upon. After Dallas McPherson homered to lead off the fourth, the Washington bullpen sprung into action. Two singles later and Loaiza (2-5) was done.

Reliever Sun-Woo Kim, called into action just three days after throwing 73 pitches in an emergency start against Seattle, looked rusty. He immediately served up a two-run triple to Chone Figgins, an RBI double to Darin Erstad and an RBI single to Guerrero. Two innings later, Guerrero rubbed it in one last time to his former mates. He clubbed a three-run homer off T.J. Tucker, capping his 4-for-4 night and all but officially snapping the Nationals’ monumental win streak.

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