- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

Tomo Ohka answered the call on short notice and just might have re-established himself as a reliable starter for the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals were faced with a pitching predicament last night when scheduled starter Zach Day had to be scratched a few hours before the game because of an inner ear infection.

The Nationals had been resting Ohka and even skipped his last turn hoping to find a cure for what had been mysteriously ailing him and affecting his performances. Maybe they found that cure last night: just don’t tell him ahead of time he’s pitching.

Ohka pitched six shutout innings, as the Nationals beat the New York Mets 5-3 in a rain-shortened, 7-inning game before 40,913 at RFK Stadium.

Of his sparkling performance, the Japanese pitcher said, “That’s just one time — I’m not happy yet.”

The season’s second-largest crowd at RFK saw Nationals manager Frank Robinson getting ejected for the first time in the eighth inning by home plate umpire Tom Hallion for questioning why Hallion didn’t stop the game under a downpour. Last week the Nationals lost to the Atlanta Braves 2-1 under similar conditions at RFK when umpire Bill Hohn refused to stop that game.

“When I asked [crew chief Joe West] if he could cover the puddles in the infield, that’s when he told me nobody has slipped yet,” Robinson said of last night’s ejection.

It took RFK’s grounds crew 31 minutes just to re-cover the infield in the second rain delay. Chants of “Let’s go grounds crew” echoed throughout RFK as the workers struggled with the tarp. After a 37-minute delay, the game was called.

Ohka (2-3) became the starter when Day was bumped about three hours before the game. Ohka’s next scheduled start was Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Now Day will take over Ohka’s turn as Robinson simply flip-flopped their starts.

The only time Ohka got in trouble was in the fifth inning when the Mets loaded the bases. Part of it was his own doing when he threw away an easy double-play ball into center field that put Mets on first and second with nobody out. Ohka escaped when he got leadoff man Jose Reyes to hit a comebacker

A 30-minute rain delay during the bottom of the sixth inning — the evening’s first stoppage — brought Ohka’s evening to an end. By shutting out the Mets, Ohka dropped his ERA from 5.85 to 4.50.

The Mets (11-13) scored all of their runs off reliever Gary Majewski when Cliff Floyd belted a bases-loaded doubled off the wall in the eighth inning.

Last Sunday against the Mets, Ohka lasted just three innings and allowed four runs on six hits and walked three. In last night’s early innings, Ohka’s fastball topped out a few times in the high 80s. However, he fed the Mets a steady diet of offspeed pitches that were clocked in the low-80s. He retired 11 of the first 12 batters.

“It was more like what we’re used to seeing out of Tomo,” Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “We talked about being more aggressive and going after guys with more intensity. We saw his stuff is back, which is nice, because we know his arm is fine.”

The Nationals bats gave Ohka a much-needed confidence boost early in the game. All season, the Nationals have been scoring runs late in games, but this time they scored two first-inning runs.

With two out, Vinny Castilla delivered a two-run double into the left-field corner off Mets erratic starter Victor Zambrano (1-3). Castilla’s hit scored Jose Vidro from second and Jose Guillen from first and pushed his team-leading RBI total to 16.

The Nationals (13-11) added a third run in the fourth inning when Zambrano walked first baseman Nick Johnson with the bases loaded. Ryan Church made it 4-0 in the fifth inning when he belted his second home run of the season against reliever Manny Aybar.

Nick Johnson extended the Nationals’ lead to 5-0 in the sixth inning with his second home run of the season.

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