- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

CINCINNATI — The Washington Nationals have seldom lost a game in as excruciating fashion as last night.

In a series finale at Cincinnati, the Nationals took a three-run lead in the 11th inning after Chad Cordero pitched two brilliant, scoreless innings. All the rest of the bullpen had to do was get three outs.

What looked like a guaranteed victory turned into a fiasco. Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. belted a three-run, walk-off homer off struggling left-hander Joey Eischen for a 5-4 Cincinnati victory before 15,771 at Great American Ball Park.

The Nationals used three relievers — Jon Rauch, Felix Hernandez, and Eischen — in the 11th and were unable to retire any hitters without help from the defense. The lone out the Nationals recorded in the inning came when left fielder Ryan Church threw out Ryan Freel at second base trying to stretch a single into a double.

Earlier in the day, the Reds activated Griffey from the 15-day disabled list. Griffey’s blast moved him into 11th place on the all-time list with 539 homers. Afterward, he answered a curtain call from the small crowd and tipped his cap.

“There’s no way that game should get away from us,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “This kicks you right in the gut, one that you don’t forget easily. It stays with you for a long time.”

It was the second straight game in which the Nationals bullpen failed in the late innings. On Wednesday, left-hander Mike Stanton surrendered the deciding three runs in the eighth inning of a 9-6 loss.

Eischen, who refused to speak to reporters after last night’s game, now has an ERA of 10.45. In 101/3 innings this season, Eischen has allowed 17 runs, including 14 earned.

The Nationals showed encouraging signs by taking a 4-1 lead in the 11th. Nick Johnson’s 10th home run of the season broke a 1-1 tie. It was Johnson’s first career extra-inning home run.

The Nationals added two more runs in the inning, the last one on Livan Hernandez’s single, his first career pinch hit.

Robinson called on his staff ace to bat because he had already used all his bench players. Hernandez sent a hard grounder to the hole between first and second base that Reds first baseman Scott Hatteberg couldn’t handle, allowing Matthew LeCroy to score. Two batters earlier, LeCroy had an RBI single to left field.

The three runs in the 11th, though, would not be enough on a night in which the Nationals also received a strong starting pitching performance from right-hander Zach Day.

Day, pitching in his hometown against the team he rooted for while growing up, allowed just one run on seven hits in seven innings. Day walked one batter intentionally and struck out three.

“I feel like I’m in command out there as far as all my pitches and location,” Day said. “I made the pitch when I needed to.”

Day had a 75-person cheering section seated in the middle tier of the Great American Ball Park above the Nationals dugout. Some held up signs that read “Zach Fan Club.” Day made his third start of the season in a Nationals uniform.

The Nationals claimed Day off waivers from the Colorado Rockies on April 26. Day’s time in Denver this season turned turbulent when he and Rockies manager Clint Hurdle clashed over the status of Day’s right shoulder.

In two starts at Coors Field in April, Day allowed 13 runs in 61/3 innings and then was designated for assignment. Day claimed there was tightness in his shoulder. Hurdle said Day’s injury complaints were unfounded because “he hasn’t had treatment and he hasn’t talked to the trainer.”

Like Livan Hernandez, Day has had trouble getting out of first innings this season. Nine of the 20 runs he has allowed this season have come in the first inning. Coming into last night’s game, opposing batters were hitting .478 in the first inning, but .263 in the innings thereafter.

Last night, he cruised through the first by his standards. He allowed just two infield singles to Felipe Lopez and Edwin Encarnacion. In the top of the fifth, Day received a standing ovation from his rooting section when he executed a perfect sacrifice bunt down the first-base line that advanced Royce Clayton to second. Unfortunately for Day, the Nationals didn’t score in the inning — or at all until the ninth.

Day pitched well enough to win, but Reds starter Bronson Arroyo was even better.

Arroyo shut out the Nationals over eight innings on just six hits. In his last two appearances against the Nationals, Arroyo has pitched 16 scoreless innings. Last night, Arroyo walked one and struck out eight.

After Arroyo left the game, the Nationals tied the game at 1-1 in the ninth on LeCroy’s sacrifice fly to right field that allowed pinch runner Damian Jackson to score. Reds closer David Weathers blew his second save opportunity in as many nights.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide