Friday, April 7, 2006

NEW YORK — A little emotion is never a bad thing, and the Washington Nationals were playing with plenty of it last night at Shea Stadium.

Of course, emotion can take a team only so far. It also helps to have a little pitching, and that’s something the Nationals didn’t have nearly enough of in a 10-5 loss to the New York Mets.

A game that featured a combined five players getting hit by pitches, one bench-clearing incident and the ejections of manager Frank Robinson and pitcher Felix Rodriguez also saw five Washington pitchers give up a combined 10 runs, 15 hits and two titanic home runs before a crowd of 25,839.

“We had our emotions in control,” Robinson said. “We just made a couple of a bad pitches, really. We didn’t make good pitches in this series, and they hit them, especially tonight.”

Put it all together and a frustrated Nationals club left town with a 1-2 record, a four-game weekend series in Houston on the horizon and a couple of really ticked off people not looking forward to a long late-night flight.

Some of that frustration stemmed from a less-than-sparkling pitching performance from Ramon Ortiz (six runs, 10 hits in his five-inning Nationals debut) and Joey Eischen (three runs, three walks in 1-1/3 innings of relief).

Most of it, though, stemmed from a beanball battle that seemed to favor the Mets. Over the final two games of this season-opening series, six Washington players were hit by pitches. Right fielder Jose Guillen alone was hit three times.

Meanwhile, only one New York batter (catcher Paul Lo Duca in the eighth last night) was plunked, though that one led to the automatic ejections of both Robinson and Rodriguez because umpires had warned both benches three innings earlier after Guillen incited a bench-clearing incident upon getting hit by Pedro Martinez.

Of course, Mets reliever Duaner Sanchez also hit Nick Johnson on a 1-2 pitch in the seventh inning — after the warning had already been issued — and got off scot free.

“Five [hit batters] to one at the time, and Nick gets hit after the warning. Nothing was said,” Robinson said. “But our guy gets rung, I get rung, because he felt like that was the appropriate time for us to retaliate. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Crew chief Rick Reed said Sanchez was not ejected because he did not believe there was intent to hit Johnson. That wasn’t the case when Rodriguez plunked Lo Duca.

“We see a lot of pitches,” Reed told a pool reporter. “We don’t feel that anybody was intentionally hit all night except for Paul Lo Duca in the end.”

The Guillen-Martinez duel was the centerpiece of last night’s game, though it had been building long before this season opened.

The checkered history between Guillen (who was hit 19 times in 2005, tied for most in the NL) and Martinez has been well-documented. When the Mets ace plunked Guillen at RFK Stadium in July, it prompted the Nationals right fielder to get into a heated dugout argument with teammates Brian Schneider and Esteban Loaiza for their failure to retaliate immediately.

Anyone who knew that history had to have a hunch something might crop up during last night’s game. Sure enough, when Martinez hit Guillen in the left hip in the third inning, the stage was set.

When Guillen stepped to the plate again in the fifth, everyone knew what was coming. With the count 1-0, Martinez grazed Guillen’s left shoulder with an 89 mph fastball, and Washington’s most emotional player couldn’t hold it in anymore.

Having just been hit by Martinez for the fifth time in 40 career plate appearances, Guillen immediately started walking to the mound, pointed his bat toward the pitcher and jawed. Lo Duca and plate umpire Ted Barrett both corralled him, but it was too late. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and though no punches were thrown, plenty more jawing ensued.

“He’s never been afraid to pitch inside,” Guillen said. “But I think enough is enough, and I’ve had enough. We used to be friends, but our relationship, I think, is over.”

Martinez, who is scheduled to pitch against the Nationals again on Wednesday at RFK Stadium, insisted he wasn’t trying to hit Guillen.

“I’ve hit him a few times before, but obviously not intentionally,” Martinez said. “I’m going to consistently try to pitch him in. That’s the area wherever I can spot a fastball in, I’m going to do it. But it’s not my intention to hit him.”

Robinson has long espoused the belief that the best revenge is a three-run homer, so perhaps the 70-year-old manager whispered something along those lines to Johnson as he stepped to the plate following the Guillen altercation. Johnson replied in kind, belting Martinez’s 2-1 pitch to right field for his second three-run homer in as many nights.

As he rounded the bases, Guillen clapped his hands furiously. The Nationals had tied the game 5-5, and Johnson had turned that hostility into something productive.

Too bad it didn’t hold up. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Delgado crushed Ortiz’s first pitch to right for a tiebreaking home run, putting the Mets back on top 6-5. Two innings later, Carlos Beltran took Eischen deep, and Delgado added an RBI double to make it 9-5, a deficit too steep for the emotionally charged Nationals to overcome.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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