- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

All season long, the Washington Nationals have wasted strong performances by right-hander Esteban Loaiza by not scoring runs for him. Now they’re sabotaging him further with uncharacteristically sloppy defensive play.

Eighth-inning errors by catcher Gary Bennett and closer Chad Cordero allowed the Chicago Cubs to score three unearned runs and defeat the Nationals 6-3 last night before 36,585 at RFK Stadium.

Washington loaded the bases with two out in the ninth, but Jose Guillen’s bid for a walk-off homer was caught in deep right field by Jeromy Burnitz.

The Nationals’ miscues basically gave the Cubs the game. Leading 3-2 in the eighth, Chicago added a run as a blown suicide squeeze by the Cubs turned into a run when Bennett dropped the ball while chasing Burnitz in a rundown.

“The first one wasn’t a fielding error. It was a fundamental error,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said, meaning the Nationals didn’t record the out on what seemed like a routine play.

With two out, Cordero fielded Corey Patterson’s roller up the first-base line but threw the ball over first baseman Nick Johnson’s head, allowing Jason Dubois and Jerry Hairston Jr. to score on the gaffe and give the Cubs a decisive 6-2 lead. Those were the first inherited runs Cordero has allowed in his three-year career.

“I was able to get the ball, so if I would have called [Johnson] off, he would have been at first,” Cordero said. “I didn’t say anything, and he wasn’t sure if he should cover the base or go for the ball. It was all my fault. It’s a play the pitcher should get.”

Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla added a throwing error in the ninth inning. Washington came into last night’s game as the third-best fielding team in the National League with a .985 percentage. Now the Nationals (18-17) have 22 errors in 35 games.

Loaiza retired 10 of 11 batters he faced before a two-out, fourth-inning walk to Aramis Ramirez jump-started the Cubs. With the Nationals leading 1-0, Loaiza surrendered consecutive singles to Burnitz, Michael Barrett and Dubois, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead.

“I wanted to keep battling, and they didn’t score any more after that,” Loaiza said.

The 33-year-old Loaiza has pitched well all season with little run support. He has been involved in only three decisions in his first eight starts, winning one, but has a strong ERA of 3.54. He has held opponents to three or fewer runs in seven straight starts.

“I just hope he doesn’t get down on himself or on the team,” Robinson said. “He seems to be the guy this year so far that we just don’t score much for. He can’t will the runs across home plate for us.”

Robinson brought on setup man Luis Ayala to open the eighth inning with the game tied 2-2. Ramirez, the first batter, jacked a solo home run over the left-center field wall for the Cubs (16-18).

The usually dependable Ayala, who had worked scoreless relief in 12 of his last 13 appearances, simply blew up this time. Burnitz, the next batter, drilled a long double off the wall in left-center. Two batters later, Ayala hit Dubois with a pitch, and Robinson pulled him.

“You ask the guy to come in and get three outs, and he didn’t do that, and that’s his job,” Robinson said. “He didn’t get it done tonight.”

The Nationals took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when backup catcher Bennett singled in Castilla.

After falling behind 2-1, the Nationals tied it in the sixth inning when pinch hitter Ryan Church delivered a single to right field that scored Guillen.

After the Cubs’ big eighth inning, the Nationals scored their final run in the ninth when pinch hitter Tony Blanco doubled in Bennett. With two out, the Nationals loaded the bases with the potential winning run at the plate in Guillen, but the slugger flied out to the warning track near the right-field line.

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