- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

As if observant fans of the Washington Nationals didn’t already know this, Livan Hernandez is a different breed of pitcher.

How many other major leaguers would take the ball yesterday afternoon, suffering from flu-like symptoms, then throw 115 pitches and expect to retake the mound for the eighth?

“I’m the pitcher. I’ve got to pitch,” Hernandez said, adding later that “a lot of people have the flu and don’t pitch. I don’t understand that.”

That attitude is why the veteran right-hander is so well-respected around baseball, but it’s also why he frequently finds himself in a situation like he was in yesterday: serving up the two-run homer to Pat Burrell that propelled the Philadelphia Phillies to a 6-2 win over the Nationals at RFK Stadium.

After cruising for seven innings, Hernandez was allowed to take the mound in the eighth and try to protect Washington’s 2-1 lead. Manager Frank Robinson didn’t have to think twice about leaving his ace in the ballgame to face the heart of the Phillies order, especially when half his bullpen was unavailable after Friday night’s 12-inning victory.

As Robinson put it, “115 pitches is not that many pitches for him. He was still throwing the ball good. He was still under control.”

Not for long. Bobby Abreu led off the inning by lacing a hard-hopper that ate up second baseman Jose Vidro. That brought Burrell to the plate representing the go-ahead run, and the Philadelphia cleanup man wasted no time coming through.

Hernandez’s first pitch was a slider up and over the plate, and Burrell launched it high toward left field. Alfonso Soriano backtracked and the crowd of 32,089 held its collective breath for a moment — but when the ball landed in the Phillies bullpen for a two-run homer, it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the ballpark.

“Nothing you can do about that,” said Hernandez (5-6), who saw his four-start winning streak snapped. “He’s a power hitter and I left the ball up and he hit it out.”

It was a frustrating way to lose a game, one the Nationals appeared to have under control to that point. Hernandez’s seven previous innings had set the stage, and Marlon Byrd’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly and Ryan Zimmerman’s sixth-inning RBI single had provided the offense.

But, as Robinson said later: “You never think you’ve got enough in a one-run game until it’s over.”

And Burrell made sure of that, spoiling Hernandez’s day.

“It’s just tough because he had already thrown a bunch of pitches and now he’s out there battling,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “You make one small mistake with this team, and as you saw last night and today, you can pay for it real quick.”

It would be one thing if the damage ended with Burrell’s homer. It didn’t. Once Hernandez trudged off the field following the homer, head down as the crowd gave him a standing ovation, things became worse.

Left-hander Mike Stanton came on and struck out Ryan Howard, but righty Jon Rauch followed and allowed three more runs to score, a rally that began with an error by Zimmerman and included a two-run double by David Dellucci that had Soriano twisted around.

Suddenly, the Nationals hadn’t just blown a 2-1 lead. They trailed by four runs.

“I mean, [the deficit is] only one run [after the Burrell homer], it’s not that big a deal,” Zimmerman said. “I think the hit by Dellucci was bigger than that.”

It was the second time in 18 hours the Phillies put up a late five runs against Washington. Friday night, the Nationals managed to bounce back from the calamity and ultimately win an exhausting game in the bottom of the 12th.

They left RFK around 1 a.m. and returned to take the field 10 hours later. Even Schneider, who caught all 12 innings Friday, came back to catch all nine yesterday.

“I was still loose from last night,” he joked.

Still, it seemed to take both sides a few innings to get going. Hernandez and Cory Lidle dominated early on, with Lidle carrying a no-hitter into the fifth. Hernandez matched his counterpart, though, escaping a couple of his trademark jams before finally surrendering a run in the fifth on Utley’s sacrifice fly.

Hernandez’s teammates picked him up. Marlon Anderson led off the fifth with a double down the left-field line, took third on Schneider’s groundout and then bolted home on Byrd’s sac fly to shallow center. One inning later, Royce Clayton doubled to right and ultimately scored when Zimmerman stuck his bat out to bloop a tough breaking ball from Lidle over the shortstop’s head.

The stage was set for the Nationals’ ninth win in 10 games. If only Burrell hadn’t turned Hernandez’s gutsy afternoon into a heartbreaking loss.

“We’re human,” Schneider said. “We’ve been playing very, very well and a lot of things have been going our way. Today things didn’t go our way. But you can’t sit there and look for excuses. We’ve been playing very good, and it was a great ballgame today until that one inning.”

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