- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies weren’t having any luck hitting Mike O’Connor, so they did perhaps the only thing they could to knock the Washington Nationals rookie pitcher out of last night’s game.

They literally hit him.

Cruising along on his way to yet another quality start, O’Connor was forced out in the bottom of the sixth after taking a line drive from Chase Utley in the left ankle. Gary Majewski then entered and served up a three-run homer to Ryan Howard, a defining blow that led to an 11-2 loss before 33,682 at Citizens Bank Park.

O’Connor’s departure from a game he appeared to have under control derailed a Washington club that was coming off a successful homestand. At the time of the injury, the game was tied 2-2. Once the Nationals bullpen was called into service, it quickly devolved into an ugly blowout loss.

“We’re going to lose ballgames, but you want to play better,” said manager Frank Robinson, whose team had won five of six. “It looked like we were ready to play some baseball. Tonight we just didn’t play baseball.”

Robinson’s bullpen deserved most of the blame.

Majewski was the first victim, coming in cold to replace O’Connor. It’s a tough spot to be thrust into, but the right-hander said he was ready after taking advantage of his unlimited warm-up time.

Majewski simply didn’t execute. First he uncorked a wild pitch. Then he walked Pat Burrell. Finally, the big blow: a 1-2 fastball down and over the plate to Howard. The Phillies first baseman lofted the ball into the left-field bleachers for his 18th homer and league-leading 13th this month.

“I just didn’t hit the spots like I’ve been doing,” said Majewski, who has given up five hits (two homers) in eight career encounters with Howard. “I just didn’t get the job done.”

Howard’s homer put the Nationals in a 5-2 hole, but the deficit might as well have been 10 runs the way they rolled over and played dead after that.

The Nationals had just one hit in the game’s final five innings, despite catching a break when Phillies starter Jon Lieber left after only two innings with a groin strain that landed him on the disabled list. And the bullpen only added to the misery during a painful, five-run seventh.

Joey Eischen walked both batters he faced before getting yanked. The left-hander has faced four hitters at Citizens Bank Park this season and walked all of them.

“I was afraid to let them hit the ball, I guess, instead of going right after them,” Eischen said. “I have to do a better job, and I’ll do a better job tomorrow.”

Rookie Santiago Ramirez was left to clean up Eischen’s mess, summoned to pitch with the bases loaded in a still-close ballgame, and failed miserably. In a span of four batters, he served up a two-run single, an RBI double and another two-run single, allowing Robinson to replace several of his regulars and offer some rare garbage time to a handful of backups.

“We were in the ballgame,” the manager said. “We just let it get away.”

It was an unsightly end to a night that began quite promising for the Nationals, thanks in large part to O’Connor (2-3).

The young left-hander got off to a shaky start, giving up single runs in both the first and second innings. But he settled down nicely after that, striking out Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu and Burrell in the third and retiring eight straight before his night ended abruptly in the sixth.

Leading off the inning, Utley tagged a comebacker that caught O’Connor flush on the left ankle and ricocheted a good 75 feet to his right.

“By the time I could react, it was already on me,” he said. “It got me pretty good.”

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire and assistant trainer Mike McGowan rushed to the mound to check on O’Connor and had him throw a few warm-up pitches to test the ankle.

When O’Connor threw his second pitch to the backstop, Robinson emerged from the dugout and wasted little time signaling for Majewski.

“After I threw my second pitch, I kind of felt it a little,” O’Connor said. “I feel like if I just had a little more time, I could have stayed in there.”

Robinson, though, didn’t want to take any chances with his rookie pitcher, who was diagnosed with a bruised ankle. The club said the injury will not jeopardize his next scheduled start, Saturday in Milwaukee.

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