- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

Two of baseball’s premier pitchers squared off in a heavyweight duel last night at RFK Stadium.

With the bases loaded and one out in the 11th inning, Washington rookie outfielder Ryan Church’s sacrifice fly to shallow left field scored Jamey Carroll as the Nationals edged the Florida Marlins 3-2 in the first extra-inning game at RFK since 1971.

Washington’s Livan Hernandez and Florida’s Josh Beckett gave the crowd of 29,439 their money’s worth. Give this round to Hernandez, but just barely.

Hernandez pitched nine solid innings and allowed the Marlins just two runs on seven hits. The Nationals’ ace threw 150 pitches, but it was not enough for a victory. Beckett was almost as masterful, pitching eight innings and allowing just two runs on four hits. Beckett threw 106 pitches.

With the important win, the Nationals (29-26) moved within a half-game of the Marlins (28-24) and Atlanta Braves (29-25) for first place in the NL East. The win also improved the Nationals’ record in one-run games to 12-7 and 2-4 against the Marlins. The Nationals have won five of their last six games and are 4-1 on this 13-game homestand.

Hernandez’s nine strong innings matched a season high, when he pitched a complete-game win May 4 in Los Angeles.

“If it was left up to me, he wouldn’t have been out there for 150 pitches,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “But he knows himself and he knows what he’s capable of doing better than I do.”

Back in his native Cuba, Hernandez was conditioned to throw a lot of pitches. During spring training, Hernandez said it was not uncommon for him to pitch 15-inning games and throw more than 170 pitches a game in Cuba.

“I need to [throw a lot of pitches sometimes] to make my arm feel better,” Hernandez said. “I haven’t thrown 140 or so for a long time so I made the decision, and I feel good. If I don’t feel good, I’m not going to go for it.”

For eight innings, Beckett and Hernandez were locked in a classic duel. Hernandez stumbled just a bit in the third inning as the Marlins took a 2-0 lead, and then Beckett (7-3, 2.58 ERA) had a hiccup in the fourth inning when Washington tied it.

“[Beckett] was tough tonight, but we had another guy that matched him out there and stayed one inning longer than he did,” Robinson said.

Hernandez (8-2, 3.45) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning when he enticed third baseman Damion Easley to pop up in foul territory off first base. Nick Johnson made a fine defensive play, leaning near the rail along the stands.

Hernandez got out of the ninth when he doubled up speedy pinch runner Juan Pierre off first base after Luis Castillo lined out to the mound.

The Marlins scratched two runs off Hernandez in the third inning. Castillo, who is Florida’s leadoff man, opened the inning with a line drive to right-center. Former Baltimore Oriole Jeff Conine pushed Castillo to second with an infield single into the hole at shortstop that Cristian Guzman was unable to make a play on.

With two outs and Castillo at third and Conine at second, Juan Encarnacion sent a flare into right field to make it 2-0. Those RBI were Nos. 500 and 501 of Encarnacion’s seven-year career.

The Nationals came storming back in the fourth. Slugger Jose Guillen’s broken-bat roller up the third-base line got things started in the inning. Johnson drove in Guillen with a triple into the gap in right for his team-leading 30th RBI of the season.

Encarnacion gave Johnson a little help on the play when he slipped at the edge of the warning track trying to retrieve Johnson’s ball off the wall. Vinny Castilla then scored Johnson with a groundout to shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

Marlins reliever Nate Bump (0-3) walked Carroll to open the decisive 11th inning. Guillen reached on a fielder’s choice with a dribbler back to the mound that Bump nearly threw into center field on a force attempt at second. Johnson walked to load the bases.

One batter later, Church lofted an opposite-field fly ball to left fielder Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, who was shading toward center, made a running catch going toward the line and fired to the plate, but Carroll scored the winning run easily.

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