- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Ramon Ortiz stood on the mound at RFK Stadium yesterday afternoon, soaking in the adulation of 31,092 fans who nervously applauded as the 33-year-old right-hander tried to record three more outs and secure the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history.

In the batters’ box, though, stood Aaron Miles, the St. Louis Cardinals’ 29-year-old second baseman, nearly in disbelief over this incredible twist of events. Ortiz didn’t realize it, but Miles had waited almost a decade for this moment.

On Aug. 7, 1997, a young Anaheim Angels prospect named Ramon Ortiz pitched a no-hitter for the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels, beating the Quad City River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa. The final out of that game was made by a young Houston Astros prospect named Aaron Miles.

Nine years, 851 miles and one incredible coincidence of events later, Ortiz and Miles found themselves in a similar situation. And this time, Miles got his revenge.

The Cardinals leadoff man lined an 0-1 fastball into left-center field for a single, breaking up Ortiz’s no-hit bid in the ninth inning and turning what could have been a historic afternoon into a mere 4-1 Nationals victory.

“You never forget that when you’re in a no-hitter and you make the last out of the game,” Miles said. “I really wanted to return the favor, so to speak.”

Miles’ moment of catharsis may have spoiled Ortiz’s bid for the record book, but it couldn’t completely spoil a remarkable afternoon for the Nationals. Ortiz didn’t get his first major league no-hitter, but that’s about the only thing he didn’t accomplish on this day.

The veteran right-hander, after a season full of ups and downs, reached new heights with his 82/3-inning performance. He wound up surrendering two hits — the Miles single and a towering, upper deck homer by Albert Pujols two batters later — but still authored perhaps the best outing of his career.

“It’s very hard to throw a no-hitter,” Ortiz said. “I feel good, I feel great, and we win the game. That’s the most important thing that happened.”

Ortiz threw an economical 95 pitches (62 strikes) and didn’t really come close to surrendering a hit until the ninth. And if that wasn’t enough, he added even more spice to the story by connecting for the first home run of his career in the eighth, a blast into the left-field bullpen that left RFK shaking and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden heaving pieces of paper out of his skybox and into the lower deck in celebration.

“When I hit that ball, I said, ‘Oh my god! It’s a home run?’” said Ortiz, a career .079 hitter who had only one previous RBI. “When I saw that ball, I said, ‘Yes!’ It’s unbelievable. I can’t sleep tonight.”

Ortiz’s theatrics with the bat, though, may have cost him his moment on the mound. Several observers noted the pitcher was so jacked up after hitting the home run that he might have lost a little focus when he retook the mound in the ninth. If nothing else, Ortiz’s teammates were forced to talk to him and congratulate him for his solo blast, breaking the time-honored tradition of ignoring a pitcher while a no-hitter remains intact.

“I think that was Ramon’s fault because he hit the home run, and we all had to slap his hand and say something,” said Austin Kearns, whose two-run homer in the seventh gave Washington the lead. “Nobody was talking to him the whole game, and then he hit the homer. You gotta get on him for hitting the home run.”

Kearns, of course, was joking, but there might have been some truth to his line of thinking. Ortiz (10-12) tends to get emotional, and he often has trouble staying calm on the mound.

It would have been difficult for anyone to remain calm during the ninth inning yesterday, though, not with so much at stake.

Maybe it was all too much to ask for. Ortiz opened the ninth by slipping an outside fastball past Miles. His next pitch was supposed to be inside, but it tailed back ever so slightly over the plate, and Miles lined it over shortstop Felipe Lopez’s head for a single.

“When you’re throwing a no-hitter in the ninth, you don’t think about nothing,” Ortiz said. “You think about throwing a good pitch, and if they hit it, nothing you can do.”

The air already was seeping out of the stadium, even after Chris Duncan lined the next pitch to first base for a double play. And when Pujols crushed a 2-1 fastball into Section 449 in the upper deck, Ortiz’s day was done.

Even though the Nationals still led by three runs with one out to go, manager Frank Robinson felt the time was right to call on closer Chad Cordero. Robinson put his arms on Ortiz’s shoulders, told him he had pitched a “tremendous” ballgame and then watched the slender hurler depart to a thunderous ovation.

“I wanted him to leave with a good feeling today,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want him to have any more stress and strain than he had already and just let him enjoy the moment.”

After Cordero struck out Scott Rolen to end the game, Ortiz emerged back on the field to enjoy another moment. He was greeted with one more loud cheer, accepted a bottle of Dom Perignon from Bowden and looked ahead to the final month of the season.

“You know what? I didn’t get a no-hitter, but I’ve got some more games [left],” he said. “You never know.”

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