- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

Give Esteban Loaiza the presidential seal of approval.

With President Bush unexpectedly showing up last night at RFK Stadium, Loaiza gave the nation’s No.1 baseball fan a virtuoso pitching performance and took it upon himself to correct his poor run support.

Loaiza pitched six scoreless innings and drove in the Nationals’ first two runs with a second-inning double as Washington stayed hot with a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before 36,689 at RFK in the first game of its final interleague series of the season.

With the win, the Nationals (43-30) improved to a season-high 13 games above .500 and extended their division lead to four games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The Braves leaped over the Philadelphia Phillies into second place with a 7-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

The win also improved the Nationals’ home record to 25-9, the best in the major leagues. The presidential entourage, which included Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s younger brother, saw the Nationals extend their home-winning streak to 11 games and record their fourth shutout of the season.

The Nationals are 2-0 this season when President Bush attends. He also was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in the RFK opener April 14.

“I want him to come as often as he can,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.

The president and his friends witnessed one of Loaiza’s better starts of the season. The veteran right-hander (3-5, 3.63 ERA), cursed by poor batting support in most of his games, scattered six hits over six innings. Relievers Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero worked the final three innings. Cordero retired the side in order in the ninth inning to record his league-leading 24th save.

Loaiza missed his last scheduled start Sunday in Texas with back spasms and a sore neck. Last night he threw 93 pitches, with 62 going for strikes.

“I just went out there and tried not to overthrow,” Loaiza said.

It had been a while since Loaiza swung the bat as he did against the Blue Jays. This was Loaiza’s first RBI since July 2, 1998, against the Detroit Tigers and his first multi-RBI game since May 17, 1998, against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Vinny Castilla, the Nationals’ slumping third baseman, set the stage in the second inning when he singled to center field to open the inning. Castilla, coming off a 3-for-24 road trip that saw his batting average drop to .255, advanced to second when Junior Spivey singled to left.

Cristian Guzman moved Castilla to third with a deep fly ball to center field. With two outs, Loaiza smacked a two-run double down the left-field line that easily scored Castilla and Spivey, who raced around all the way from first.

Brad Wilkerson gave the Nationals an insurance run in the seventh inning when he led off with his fifth home run. Wilkerson sent a 1-2 pitch from Blue Jays reliever Justin Speier off the Washington Hall of Stars banner hanging above the right-field bullpen. Wilkerson’s homer was his second in his last three games.

Toronto starter Josh Towers (5-7), a former Orioles prospect, took the loss.


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