- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

For a while, the Washington Nationals seemed to be having a fairly normal sort of workday on this steamy Sunday at RFK Stadium, meaning unpredictable.

Starting pitcher Tony Armas Jr. was strong through four innings, then lost it faster than manager Frank Robinson could say “Hector Carrasco” and summon that gentleman from the bullpen. The Nationals’ hitting was spasmodic, putting it gently, and another key player was injured. They were forced to rally twice in the early innings — which, of course, they did.

Yep, it was just another day in the park for the Nats, except for one detail. This time they didn’t win.

Somehow the unthreatening Toronto Blue Jays escaped with a 9-5 victory that should have been enough to produce screaming headlines in this morning’s newspaper, complete with exclamation points.


With their season just six games from the halfway point, this is what it has come to for the nutty Nats. Anybody who has followed their fortunes closely expects them to overcome every obstacle, surmount every barrier, climb every mountain. I know that’s redundant, but after all, our first baseball team in 34 years has been doing it repeatedly.

Over the air yesterday, TV main man Mel Proctor was calling the Nats “America’s new favorite team.” That might be a stretch, considering the overall lack of support for Washington players in the All-Star balloting, but any day now more of the national media should take notice. Heck, Time magazine even had a story about the Nats last week, although its jocks-and-buns sister publication, Sports Illustrated, apparently thinks the club is still losing games in Montreal and/or San Juan.

Yesterday’s failure will matter only until the Nats kick off business tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at RFK. Most pennant-winning teams lose 50 or 60 games a season, so one midseason defeat doesn’t matter unless the team fails to stick it in the rearview mirror instantly. Scarlett O’Hara said it as well as anybody as the credits prepared to roll: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”


Football teams always blather about taking it one game at a time, but baseball teams actually do it — at least since the demise of scheduled doubleheaders.

Considering all the numbers in the Nats’ favor yesterday, the Blue Jays deserved credit merely for showing up. Our red-white-and blue wonders were 26-9 with a 12-game winning streak at RFK, 17-5 overall during June and 12-5 in interleague play.

And how about that four-game lead in the National League East and startling 44-30 record? Could you believe it? Maybe not, but you sure could dig it.

The Blue Jays managed a run without a hit in the first, mainly because Armas walked the leadoff man on four pitches and plunked the next guy. Yet even this early jam portended good things because Armas got out of it allowing just one run. Then he set down the Jays 1-2-3 in each of the next three innings, appearing in total control.

Somebody should tell Ron Darling, the Nats’ irritating TV analyst, to keep his tater trap shut. About the time he was suggesting that mystical forces were at work on Washington’s behalf, it all started to come apart for Armas.

With the Nats having rallied for a 2-1 lead, a slender slap-hitter named Orlando Hudson belted the first of his two homers to tie it in the fifth with the Jays’ first hit. This so unnerved Armas that he ceased pitching and began throwing. The rest of the half-inning went like this: walk, single, walk, two-run double, Carrasco to the mound, wild pitch, 5-2 Toronto.

No panic ensued among the 33,557 paying eyewitnesses, because the Nats treat deficits with fine and utter disdain. Sure enough, they got all even again in the seventh, principally on a two-run double by the overdue Vinny Castilla on which stalwart Nick Johnson sustained a bruised heel as he crossed the plate.

There was no immediate word on whether first baseman Johnson would yield to the rusty but not trusty Wil Cordero for any length of time, but what the heck. The Nats are old hands at ignoring injuries, seemingly dozens of ‘em.

No doubt the multitudes sunning themselves at RFK expected the Nats to take Total Command from there. Instead it was the Blue Jays scoring two in the eighth and two in the ninth to send fans to the parking lots and Metro stop with sour tastes in their mouths even if they hadn’t been guzzling warm, overpriced beer.

When you come right down to it, the surprising fact of a loss says as much about the Nats’ glorious first year as all those come-from-behind wins. The season is too far-gone now for their accomplishments to be a fluke. I don’t know how they’re doing it any more than you do, but who cares? Let’s just enjoy.

Down in Atlanta, the Braves might have some foolish idea that winning a 14th straight division title will be a snap. Right now, though, you would have to say the road to the NL East championship runs through Washington or maybe around the Beltway.

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