- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 10, 2006

DENVER — Frank Robinson sat in his office at Coors Field yesterday, some 15 hours after he departed the ballpark following a hideous loss that prompted an hour-long team meeting, and was asked whether his Washington Nationals would take his words seriously.

“I hope they do,” the manager said. “You’re not going to sense it last night, right after the ballgame in the clubhouse. We’ll see how they come out tonight. I think that says a lot about how they feel and how they react to this.”

In some respects, the Nationals did come out and put on a better showing against the Colorado Rockies last night. But that didn’t mean they played a clean, crisp ballgame. Quite the contrary.

One night after tying a franchise record with six errors, Washington committed two more plus a few other gaffes and wound up suffering a 9-5 loss to extend its run of misery in the Rocky Mountains.

The Nationals have played seven games against Colorado this season and have lost all seven. They’ll need to win today’s finale to avoid a season sweep at the hands of a fellow last-place club.

“Look at the way the team’s playing right now,” said Ramon Ortiz, last night’s losing pitcher. “We played good at home, and look at how we’re playing now on the road. Nothing’s coming together.”

At this stage, Robinson might just settle for a mistake-free ballgame from his struggling squad.

He didn’t get it during Friday night’s fiasco, an 11-8 loss several observers called the worst major league game they’d ever seen and one player called “very, very, very embarrassing.” And he didn’t get it last night before a crowd of 22,735, which saw Washington give up the game-winning runs in a two-run bottom of the seventh.

The inning began with the game tied 5-5, and Ortiz still on the mound. Ortiz immediately gave up a leadoff single to Kaz Matsui, then watched as ex-National Jamey Carroll dropped a bunt right in front of the plate. Catcher Robert Fick, giving starter Brian Schneider a night off, could have made the easy throw to first to complete the sacrifice but instead tried to make a more difficult play to nab Matsui at second. The throw wound up being short, leaving everybody safe.

“They are told to get the sure out, and he thought he had an out at second base,” Robinson said. “That’s a decision they make out there on the field.”

A subsequent groundout moved the runners to second and third, prompting Robinson to intentionally walk Garrett Atkins before bringing in reliever Chris Schroder to face cleanup man Matt Holliday.

Schroder made the pitch he wanted — down and in — but Holliday sent a hard grounder back up the middle, a two-run single that put the Rockies on top to stay. Carroll added a two-run triple off Brett Campbell an inning later to pad the lead, and the Nationals stumbled to their 81st loss of the season, their same total from all of 2005.

“It was down and in, and he just stayed on it and hit a groundball up the middle,” Schroder said of his pitch to Holliday. “If he hits it a little to the right or the left, it’s a double play and we get out of it.”

Five days removed from his near no-hitter, Ortiz took the mound looking to again dominate the opposition, but it was obvious immediately that wasn’t going to happen. Carroll led off the first with a single, came around to score minutes later on Atkins’ base hit and then celebrated in the dugout when Holliday crushed a two-run homer to right-center.

“You go out in the first inning and give up three runs,” Robinson said. “We need better.”

Ortiz settled down after that and actually retired 11 of 12 batters at one point before faltering in the fifth thanks to … you guessed it: poor defense behind him.

With one out and no one on, Carroll grounded up the middle. Shortstop Felipe Lopez had no trouble corralling the ball, but his throw to first short-hopped Nick Johnson and Lopez was charged with his 26th error of the season.

Two batters later, Ortiz (10-13) left a pitch over the plate to Atkins and the Colorado third baseman sent it over the center-field fence for a two-run homer (because of Lopez’s error, neither run was earned).

The Nationals might not have shown much sign of improvement defensively, but they did show signs of life offensively, and that helped bail out Ortiz. Washington scored in four of its first six innings thanks to a barrage of extra-base hits off Rockies starter Josh Fogg: six doubles and Alfonso Soriano’s 45th homer of the season, establishing a franchise record.

But that wasn’t enough to end this string of unsightly losses. In the end, Robinson’s post-game pow-wow Friday night didn’t seem to have much effect.

Said Ortiz: “We have meetings all the time, and we play the same way.”

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

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