- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

There’s not a lot of baseball being discussed these days at RFK Stadium. Not with the Alfonso Soriano trade saga taking new twists as it approaches its endgame. And not with Barry Bonds in town, sapping away whatever remaining attention isn’t on Soriano.

Perhaps more attention should be on the Washington Nationals on the field right now. It’s been a while since they’ve played this well.

“You have to like the way we’re playing,” manager Frank Robinson said after his Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 8-6 last night to extend their winning streak to four.

Too bad no one’s noticing. Yes, this game drew an enthusiastic crowd of 33,358 to RFK. But most seemed more interested in applauding Soriano and booing Bonds than the actual game.

Neither player figured much in the outcome of the game, aside from Soriano getting plunked in the left elbow on Matt Morris’ first pitch of the night and scoring the Nationals’ first run.

Washington’s offensive explosion was made possible by just about every player in the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson drove in first-inning runs, and Johnson got help from Marlon Anderson and Ryan Church during a five-run third that blew the game open and sent Morris to the showers early.

All those runs proved vital, because the Giants chipped away at the lead all night. Before departing, Morris sent a two-run, ground-rule double over the center-field fence, No. 8 hitter Eliezer Alfonzo added a solo homer off starter Ramon Ortiz (7-9) and veteran Ray Durham smacked a pair of homers to cut the lead to one.

But Washington scored an insurance run in the eighth on Church’s sacrifice fly, and Chad Cordero escaped a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth to notch his 16th save and keep his team’s sudden hot streak alive.

“It’s all kind of coming together,” Robinson said.

Not that anyone has noticed, with Soriano stealing the spotlight. He was once again the center of attention before yesterday’s game, fielding questions on the trade rumors surrounding him.

The 30-year-old All-Star is taking it all in stride.

“This is my sixth year in the big leagues, so my name is always in trade rumors,” he said. “Now, I take a more relaxed approach and enjoy my time, play the game, and enjoy the rumors, too. Because I enjoy it. … I just laugh, because the last seven days, I see my name with five different teams.”

One of those teams, the Chicago White Sox, was thrust into the forefront of the Soriano derby on Monday, with rumors of a near-completed deal with Washington making national headlines.

Those rumors proved to be exaggerated, with multiple baseball sources saying the two teams are nowhere close to a deal, White Sox general manager Ken Williams insisting he will not include prize right-hander Brandon McCarthy in any package and several observers speculating that both teams were making a public bluff in an attempt to drive up Soriano’s price.

This much remained clear yesterday: A host of teams, perhaps as many as a half-dozen, remain in the running for Soriano, including the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden wouldn’t talk about any specific players yesterday afternoon. But he said he had already spoken to 27 teams on a variety of players over the course of the day. He also said that, contrary to popular belief, he’s not going to back off his demand for two or three top-tier prospects in exchange for a player like Soriano.

“The price today is the same price it’s going to be at the deadline,” Bowden said. “We don’t have to trade anybody. We don’t have to do anything except try to make this team better. So you’re not going to see us at the last minute, all of a sudden, change our price. I’ve never done that. I don’t believe in it.”

As Bowden talked in the Washington dugout, Bonds was drawing his own crowd in the batting cage as the controversial hitter took batting practice. The subject of intense scrutiny by fans and federal prosecutors alike, the second-most prolific home-run hitter in baseball history went about his business as usual.

Bonds was greeted with boos every time he emerged from the dugout, every time he stepped to the plate and every time he touched the ball in left field. A sign in the center-field upper deck read: “Hank didn’t cheat.”

Bonds didn’t come particularly close to hitting homer No. 723 last night. He failed to get the ball out of the infield in his first three at-bats, with Johnson making a diving stop of his third-inning smash down the first-base line.

Bonds finally got the ball to carry in the eighth in his final at-bat of the night, sending a drive to deep left-center. But Soriano tracked it down and made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch to thunderous applause.

Soriano upstaged Bonds on this night — both on and off the field.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the https://www.washingtontimes.com/sports>Sports Page

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