- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

SAN DIEGO — They seemed to tempt fate all day — narrowly escaping jams, failing to add to their slim lead, missing signs at crucial junctures and giving the opposition every opportunity to turn the tables.

So when Brian Giles singled home the winning run in the 10th inning yesterday, giving the San Diego Padres a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals, it was perhaps an inevitable way to end both a frustrating ballgame and road trip.

The Nationals simply didn’t execute enough to merit victory yesterday afternoon at Petco Park. And so they prepared for a long flight back to the District stewing over a 3-6 West Coast trip that should have been more productive.

“Typical of a lot of ballgames and opportunities we’ve had this year, and we came up the same way,” manager Frank Robinson said.

Robinson’s club put itself in position to capture this game and earn a series victory over the National League West-leading Padres. Bolstered by another leadoff homer by Alfonso Soriano and perhaps Livan Hernandez’s best start of the season, the Nationals carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning.

But Hernandez, who baffled San Diego’s hitters all afternoon with a slow curveball that at one point bottomed out at 59 mph on the stadium radar gun, went to his signature pitch one too many times. With two outs in the seventh and a man on second, the veteran right-hander tried to slip that curve past Giles on a 2-1 count. The Padres slugger, mired in a lengthy power drought, waited on the pitch and drilled it over the right-field fence for a two-run homer.

“It was not a good pitch, because he hit a home run,”said Hernandez, who didn’t give up another run in his seven innings. “But it was down. The pitch was perfect, down and inside.”

Trailing 2-1, the Nationals needed to rally against an accomplished San Diego bullpen. They somehow managed to tie the game in the eighth off Scott Linebrink despite near disaster.

With one out, Marlon Anderson drew a walk and Brian Schneider singled to right, putting runners on the corners for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward. Ward worked the count in his favor, 3-1, and dug in for what figured to be his best chance to come through. But as Linebrink released the ball, Schneider stunningly broke for second. Shortstop Geoff Blum couldn’t handle the throw from catcher Josh Bard, the ball trickled into center field and Anderson trotted home with the tying run.

It was only Schneider’s third career stolen base — his first since April 17, 2005 — and it was never supposed to happen. Third-base coach Tony Beasley inadvertently gave Schneider the steal sign, and though he tried to correct his error, Schneider never saw it.

“It worked out, but it was my mistake,” Beasley said. “I gave the sign, and I went somewhere that it looked like something. And by the time I corrected it, I guess we lost eye contact.”

Said Schneider: “I was definitely surprised. But I was given a sign, and I do what I’m told.”

The Nationals were lucky the miscommunication didn’t cost them, but that wasn’t consolation for an irate Robinson, who said he has been in this game “50 [expletive] years” and never would have put the steal on in that situation.

“You don’t win games up here on luck,” the manager said. “You win games up here on good execution of fundamentals.”

Poor execution cost Washington in the pivotal 10th inning. Reliever Micah Bowie had cruised through both the eighth and ninth, and with a pair of left-handed hitters on deck for the Padres, Robinson sent him back out for his third inning of the afternoon.

Bowie (0-1) immediately got into trouble, surrendering a deep drive to center off the bat of Dave Roberts. The dynamic leadoff man caused the Nationals fits all weekend, and this was the coup de grace. As the ball sailed toward the fence, Bowie feared the worst.

“I thought it was going to be a triple or a home run off the bat,” he said. “I thought he hit the ball really well.”

Center fielder Ryan Church, though, thought he had a chance to haul it in, even after taking one step in before backtracking. Church extended his right arm somewhat, trying to make an over-the-shoulder catch, but came up a few inches short, and the ball fell in for a double.

“I was [surprised it went so far],” Church said. “I thought I had a bead on it.”

So did his manager.

“When the ball’s hit and you see where it landed, you would hope it would be caught, that it should be caught,” Robinson said. “But what happens and what you feel or think really doesn’t count.”

The rest was academic. Giles fell behind 1-2 to Bowie, but stayed back on a slider and drove it into center field for the game-winning hit. The Padres celebrated in the middle of the diamond, while the Nationals trudged off following another wasted opportunity.

“This is why we’ve not been able to put anything together and not be consistent,” Robinson said. “We just don’t win, and haven’t won, these type of ballgames.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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