- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Well, at least they got the game in.

That’s about all that could be said of the Washington Nationals’ 18-9 loss to the Florida Marlins last night, an ugly ballgame befitting the setting in which it was played.

A late-afternoon downpour threatened to wash this game out before it ever started. At the time, the Nationals wanted to do whatever they could to get it in and avoid either a day-night doubleheader today or a makeup game when the Marlins come back to town next month.

But as manager Frank Robinson pointed out earlier in the day, “The last thing I want is a loss.”

He didn’t just get one; he got one of titanic proportions. A late rally by the Nationals kept this from becoming the most lopsided loss of the last two seasons, but it still set a few records for futility.

The 27 combined runs shattered an RFK Stadium record that had stood since April 22, 1965, when the Baltimore Orioles beat the Washington Senators 18-4.

At least there weren’t many in the park to see this one. A crowd of 18,441, smallest for a game at RFK since baseball returned, was announced. And that figure included thousands of ticket-holders who were scared away by the rain and never showed up.

Turns out they were the smart ones all along as the Nationals’ four-game winning streak dissolved.

“Bad ballgame,” Robinson said in his office 45 minutes after the final out. “There’s no two ways to look at it. We just were not in sync tonight.”

Those who did suffer through this travesty in person were treated to an eminently forgettable 3 hours, 18 minutes of baseball, with the Nationals actually taking a 4-3 lead after the first inning before collapsing in a heap.

The man most responsible for that was Mike O’Connor, the rookie left-hander who entered with a 3.77 ERA and 13 mostly quality starts yet departed with a 4.32 ERA after lasting only one inning plus two batters.

Robinson gave O’Connor a quick hook because his team still led at the time. But to that point, the lefty had surrendered a pair of first-inning homers, then opened the second with a single, a wild pitch and a walk.

Robinson couldn’t take any more. He strolled to the mound, signaled for reliever Jason Bergmann and asked for the ball from a stunned O’Connor.

“A couple of hits and then I walked a guy, and that was it,” O’Connor said. “Kind of quick.”

Robinson offered no apologies.

“He didn’t have it. We saw that,” he said. “But I didn’t think he was going to get it. Tonight was one of those times when I felt like he just wasn’t going to get it together. We had to try to stop them before they exploded like they did.”

It didn’t matter who Robinson brought in out of the bullpen, though. Bergmann immediately surrendered three hits and an RBI groundout, and by the time the inning was over, Florida had scored four times to take a 7-4 lead.

“You always have to be ready,” Bergmann said of his early entrance into the game. “Your job as a reliever is to be ready to pitch at any time. It’s not like I wasn’t ready. They just hit some pitches that I threw.”

Bergmann said this as he was packing his bags after getting optioned to Class AAA New Orleans for the third time this season. The Nationals will purchase the contract of journeyman left-hander Micah Bowie from New Orleans and hope he makes it to RFK in time for today’s 1:05 p.m. game.

Still, as bad as O’Connor and Bergmann were, neither was the Nationals’ worst pitcher of the night. That dishonor went to rookie reliever Saul Rivera, who retired the first batter he faced in the fifth and then allowed 10 straight Marlins to reach base.

And these weren’t cheap hits, either. Nearly every one was crushed, several of them line drives right back through the box. At one point, Rivera surrendered six straight RBI hits. After Wes Helms recorded his second hit of the inning, bringing the Marlins’ eighth run of the inning across, Rivera’s night came to a merciful end.

His pitching line: one-third of an inning, eight runs (seven earned), eight hits. During that time, Rivera’s ERA skyrocketed from 3.44 to 6.75.

And after veteran Mike Stanton gave up three more runs in the seventh, Washington found itself on the wrong end of an 18-5 ballgame. Four late runs helped soften the sting a bit, but it still couldn’t completely erase the sour taste in the players’ mouths as they departed the ballpark and prepared to return for a newly scheduled 11 a.m. team meeting today.

“It was one of them crazy games,” outfielder Daryle Ward said. “It just got out of hand real quick. It’s a reality check.”

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

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