- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

Washington Nationals starter Livan Hernandez should be forgiven if he was a little distracted in the first inning of last night’s game against the New York Mets.

After all, he might have been trying to figure out who these guys were behind him wearing Nationals uniforms, because they probably didn’t look familiar.

By the time he may have put the names and faces together, it was too late. The Mets had a five-run lead before a single out had been made, a lead they easily held onto in a 5-2 defeat of the Nationals before a crowd of 32,467 at RFK Stadium.

The loss leaves the Nationals (78-77) barely hanging on to fourth place in the National League East, just a half-game ahead of the Mets (77-77). It also puts the Nationals seven games behind the Houston Astros in the wild-card race with seven games remaining.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson opted to play, for the most part, rookies and backups, deciding to shut down most of the veterans for the final week of the season. But Hernandez (15-9) didn’t get to sit this one out. He had to pitch with an untested cast of supporting characters, and they betrayed him from the start.

Leadoff man Jose Reyes lined a shot to left field that rookie Brandon Watson dived for and missed, giving Reyes a leadoff double. He moved to third on a bunt by Miguel Cairo, a sacrifice that resulted in Cairo reaching safely when rookie first baseman Tony Blanco couldn’t handle the throw from Hernandez, putting two on with nobody out.

Carlos Beltran, who did the Nationals in with a 10th-inning three-run homer in Friday night’s 5-2 loss, beat out an infield single to short, scoring Reyes for a 1-0 Mets lead. Cliff Floyd walked to load the bases, which sent pitching coach Randy St. Claire out to the mound for a conversation.

The talk didn’t deliver the intended results: David Wright blasted a 2-0 pitch from Hernandez over the left-center field wall for his second career grand slam. The Mets led 5-0 — still no outs.

Hernandez retired the next three batters, striking out Marlon Anderson and getting both Ramon Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz on fly balls to right.

After the first, Hernandez rebounded to go eight innings and allow only the five runs (four earned) on six hits. He walked one and struck out six.

“He was pretty good after the first inning,” Robinson said. “He did an excellent job after the first inning.”

Mets starter Tom Glavine (12-13) did not have the same early struggles as Hernandez. Watson led off the bottom of the first for Washington by hitting a foul pop to Castro, the catcher. Cristian Guzman struck out, and after rookie Ryan Zimmerman singled to center, Preston Wilson grounded to short to end the inning.

Glavine led off the second with a single to left, but the Nationals defense came through this time for Hernandez, turning a double play on a ground ball to Deivi Cruz at second base. Cairo struck out for the third out.

After that, it was a pitchers’ duel for three innings, as only one batter — Glavine — reached base for either team. But shaky defense returned in the sixth when Blanco committed his second error as he failed to handle a throw from Guzman on a Beltran grounder. Blanco managed to field a ground ball cleanly by Anderson to close out the inning.

Hernandez said the two errors by Blanco and other miscues by the reworked defense did not frustrate him.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Hernandez said. “Nobody wants to make an error or strike out with the bases loaded or whatever. It happens. I just continue to do my job.”

In the Nationals’ sixth, Hernandez hit a fly ball to right that got by Anderson and went to the wall for a triple. Hernandez scored on an infield hit by Watson for the Nationals’ first run. After Guzman hit a fly ball to center for the second out, Zimmerman drove a shot into the left-field corner for a double, scoring Watson and cutting the Mets’ lead to 5-2.

The Mets managed to get a runner in scoring position in the seventh when, with one out, Mientkiewicz singled to right and moved to second on a sacrifice by Glavine. But Reyes was called out on strikes, and then thrown out of the game by home plate umpire Sam Holbrook for arguing the call. A few minutes later, Mets manager Willie Randolph followed Reyes to the clubhouse, also tossed by Holbrook.

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