- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

The Washington Nationals reached the midway point of the season last night securely holding down last place in the National League East after an 11-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 21,854 at RFK Stadium.

The Nationals made Tampa Bay Devil Rays starter Tim Corcoran look like the second coming of Cy Young. He had a three-hit shutout over seven innings while the Devil Rays were belting five home runs, four of them two-run jobs. Corcoran (2-0) struck out eight and walked just three in his third major league start after being called up June 14 from Class AAA Durham.

“When looking back at the times back in Montreal and the good times here last year, I don’t remember this organization, this ballclub being this bad,” said Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro, the franchise’s longest-tenured player.

The Nationals have lost four straight, nine of their last 10 and 14 of their last 17.

“It’s not a low point — the low point is the way we’re playing right now and not winning ballgames, that’s the low point,” manager Frank Robinson said. “We’re not competing. We’re not giving ourselves a chance to win ballgames.”

With the loss, their fourth straight and ninth in 10 games, the Nationals fell a season-high 15 games under .500 (33-48), leaving them on pace to lose 96 games this season. The loss also dropped their interleague record to 5-11.

Last year at this time, the Nationals were in first place with a 50-31 record. The debacle last night was their worst loss this season and the second-worst in the club’s two-year existence. Only a 14-1 loss to the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens last July 22 at RFK was more lopsided.

The rout gained speed in the fifth inning when Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli cracked the second two-run homer of the game off Nationals starter Mike O’Connor (3-5).

O’Connor’s honeymoon may be over. The rookie left-hander has won just once in nine starts despite a respectable ERA. The Ellicott City, Md., native gave up a two-run homer to Devil Rays left fielder Carl Crawford in the third inning before Baldelli made it 5-0 in the fifth.

“I really didn’t have a chance to get out of jams,” said O’Connor, who allowed more than three runs in a start for just the second time in 13 major league starts.

After watching O’Connor get clubbed for five innings, Robinson turned to reliever Jason Bergmann to open the sixth. And Bergmann may have punched his ticket back to the minors with this performance.

Bergmann allowed six runs on nine hits in just two innings. When Robinson ushered his young right-hander off RFK’s mound, the Devil Rays (35-45) had pushed their lead to 11-0. Tampa Bay finished with 17 hits, tied for the most of any Nationals opponent this season.

Crawford achieved the third multi-homer game of his career in the sixth inning off Bergmann with a line-drive homer into the Nationals’ right-field bullpen for a 7-0 lead. All of Crawford’s multi-homer games have been this season and he has 12 home runs for the year.

Two batters later, Jorge Cantu took Bergmann deep to center field for his fourth homer run of the season that made it 9-0. Damon Hollins led off the seventh inning with a solo shot to the alley in left-center field that gave the Devil Rays a 10-0 lead.

Perhaps the only bright spot for the Nationals was a milestone reached by left-handed reliever Mike Stanton. When he entered the game in the eighth inning for Bergmann, he moved into a tie for third place with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on the all-time games pitched list with his 1,071st.

The Nationals avoided a shutout in the eighth inning against Devil Rays reliever Edwin Jackson when rookie Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out infield single to the hole at short scored Royce Clayton.

Clayton and Zimmerman combined for four of the Nationals’ six hits.

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

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