- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

It was one thing for unaccomplished pitchers like Darrell Rasner and John Halama to suffer mound meltdowns the previous two nights. It was quite another for John Patterson to endure the same fate last night in an 8-4 loss to the Florida Marlins that dealt yet another blow to the Washington Nationals’ slim playoff hopes.

Patterson, after all, had been enjoying a breakout season. And it’s not like he hadn’t been presented with opportunities to crack before, whether in the form of poor run support, blown saves or shoddy defense.

To date, though, Patterson had shown no signs of falling apart. Manager Frank Robinson had credited the right-hander for exhibiting “confidence and composure” all year.

A few hours after his manager made that statement, an ailing Patterson took the mound before 27,625 at RFK Stadium and exhibited neither of those qualities. Virtually unhittable at home previously, he was pounded by the Marlins for a season-high seven runs over 4[2/3] innings.

More disturbing was the manner in which Patterson (8-5) handled adversity during his worst outing of the year. A victim of poor defense and questionable umpiring, the right-hander seemed to let emotions get the best of him. He mumbled to himself, he tossed his glove in the air and he paid for it, losing for the first time in 16 starts at RFK.

“I’m frustrated. You saw frustration tonight,” Patterson said. “It’s embarrassing for me, and it’s a little embarrassing for the club. I wish I hadn’t done it, and I apologize to the fans for it. But it got to me tonight.”

“It” might best be described as two months of pent-up frustration. The same Nationals club that once led the National League East by 5[1/2] games is now four games back in the wild-card race after dropping three of four to a Florida team that is threatening to turn this into a head-to-head showdown with the Houston Astros.

“Four games seem like a lot right now, especially with the schedule we have,” left fielder Marlon Byrd said. “We have to hit a hot streak, and we have to ride it out ‘til the end of the season.”

For starters, Washington (72-69) must get a couple of superhuman pitching efforts from Esteban Loaiza and Livan Hernandez tonight and tomorrow against the division-leading Atlanta Braves. The Nationals also must hope they can cobble together a better offensive performance than they got the last two nights against Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett.

One night after Willis earned his 20th win, Beckett (13-8) took center stage at RFK and was nearly as dominant. The big right-hander struck out seven over 6[2/3] innings and made Patterson’s night even more miserable by belting his first career home run.

Given the strain on their bullpen the previous two games [-] the group pitched a combined 14[2/3] innings [-] the Nationals desperately needed Patterson to pitch deep into this game. “I hope he’s got about 12 innings in him,” Robinson had said jokingly.

So there already was cause for concern in the Washington dugout when Patterson, battling a sinus infection, needed a whopping 26 pitches to make it through the first inning. And his night only got worse.

The defining moments came with two out in the fourth, when Patterson’s defense betrayed him and the right-hander crumbled. Damion Easley singled off the lunging Vinny Castilla’s glove, then stole second when shortstop Cristian Guzman couldn’t handle catcher Brian Schneider’s throw. Juan Pierre followed with a cue-shot single to left, scoring Easley with Florida’s second run and raising Patterson’s blood pressure another notch.

It boiled over moments later when Pierre broke for second and was called safe when it appeared he had been tagged out by second baseman Jamey Carroll. On the mound, Patterson flung his glove into the air, an act of frustration that cost him dearly. Third-base umpire Tim McClelland approached the pitcher and warned him not to do that any more, and a stunned Patterson had to be rescued by three teammates.

“That’s not his job,” said the pitcher, who insisted he was not upset about the call at second base. “If he thought I was mad about the umpire, he should have come over and asked me. He shouldn’t have yelled at me. Because he doesn’t know.”

Robinson came out to defend his pitcher from getting “reamed out” by McClelland. Said the manager of the umpire: “He made a bigger deal out of it than it was.”

Patterson did get out of the inning without further damage on the scoreboard, but clearly his psyche was damaged. And when he returned for the fifth inning, he was as good as done.

Patterson grooved a 1-1 fastball to Beckett to open the inning, and the Florida pitcher (a .118 hitter) launched it over the left-field fence. Things got worse from there with a walk, a single, an RBI single, another walk and a two-run single.

Finally, Robinson emerged from the dugout and signaled for the bullpen. Patterson made the slow walk back, his frustrations finally having seeped out. By then, many among the crowd already had begun filing their way out, making for a lifeless stadium by night’s end.

“Sometimes it kind of drives me crazy when you see the fans leaving the game so early,” right fielder Jose Guillen said. “They had so much fun in the beginning of the season. Now it’s like there’s 5,000 fans there for the last three innings of the game. I just kind of think we’re letting a lot of people down right now.”

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