- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

DENVER — They’d been doing this just about every night for the last week, so the Washington Nationals weren’t likely to be fazed last night when they looked up at the Coors Field scoreboard and saw themselves trailing the Colorado Rockies by two runs in the eighth inning.

The Nationals are perfectly comfortable coming from behind, and they showed it again last night, rallying from two runs down in the eighth to tie the Rockies.

This time, though, they couldn’t finish things off. Colorado scored five unearned runs in the bottom of the inning thanks to shoddy Washington defense and wound up pulling out a 10-5 victory before what was left of a crowd of 18,617.

Ex-National Jamey Carroll produced the game-winner, even if he wasn’t credited with a hit for his actions. With one out and runners on first and second, Carroll hit a high chopper that glanced off reliever Ryan Wagner’s outstretched glove and came to a rest between the mound and second base. Shortstop Felipe Lopez came charging in to corral the ball but couldn’t make a throw to the plate to get Troy Tulowitzki, who scored all the way from second on a play that was eventually ruled an error on Wagner.

The wheels came off after that. Todd Helton smashed a ball down the first-base line and beat Nick Johnson to the bag, just as Johnson collided with Wagner. That brought home another run, and Carroll took third when Johnson threw wild to the plate for an error.

Garret Atkins’ infield single scored the inning’s third run, and Matt Holliday’s subsequent base hit brought home the inning’s fourth run. When George Lombard, a late defensive replacement in right field, missed Brad Hawpe’s two-out line drive, the Rockies scored their fifth unearned run of the inning.

Washington had won six of its last seven games, coming from behind in the eighth or ninth inning five times to make it happen. It nearly pulled off a sixth rally last night.

The Nationals trailed, 5-2, in the sixth inning this time before finally springing to life. Johnson slugged a 435-foot blast to center, his 20th homer of the season, to make it 5-3. Washington then got RBI hits from Austin Kearns and Brian Schneider in the eighth to tie the game.

The Nationals might have taken the lead, actually, on Kearns’ one-out single to right, but Jose Vidro was gunned down trying to advance from first to third.

The late drama came at the end of a long night at the ballpark. For a while, it didn’t look like this game would ever be played.

Dark clouds began moving into the ballpark late in the afternoon, washing out batting practice for the Nationals. The rain subsided twice, prompting the grounds crew to pull the tarp off the infield, but the sky immediately opened up again both times, further delaying the start.

Finally, at 8:46 p.m. local time (2 hours, 11 minutes after scheduled first pitch) Colorado’s Aaron Cook delivered a ball to Alfonso Soriano as a crowd of less than 1,000 cheered the development.

Cook got right to work, retiring the Nationals in order in the first. His counterpart, Jason Bergmann, wasn’t nearly as successful.

Bergmann was touched up by Carroll for a leadoff double in the bottom of the first, then watched as the sprite utilityman took third on a fly to right and scored on Atkins’ sacrifice fly to center to give the Rockies an early lead.

Bergmann’s troubles continued throughout his outing. Colorado scored another run in the second, then added two more in the third on Holliday’s opposite-field homer to right. By the time Carroll delivered another RBI single with two outs in the fourth, manager Frank Robinson had seen enough. He strolled to the mound, asked for the ball from Bergmann and then asked his ragtag bullpen to get him through the rest of the night.

Washington’s offense did its best to keep the game close. Soriano singled up the middle in the third to score Nook Logan, and Ryan Church tagged a run-scoring double to deep center an inning later to make it 4-2.

Notes — Despite Mike O’Connor’s impressive return from a sore elbow Wednesday, the rookie left-hander does not know when he’ll pitch again. The Nationals plan to start Billy Traber in Arizona on Monday, which would have been O’Connor’s turn in the rotation. Robinson said the club may alternate between the two hurlers through the season’s final three weeks. He does not plan to go to a full, six-man rotation. …

Alex Escobar underwent successful surgery yesterday to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder, an injury the outfielder suffered when he dislocated the shoulder diving back into first base Aug. 25 in Atlanta. Escobar will begin a rehabilitation program Monday in Washington and is expected to be ready for spring training. …

Kearns was not in the starting lineup for the second straight day with a mild groin strain. The right fielder is healthy enough to play, and he pinch-hit in the eighth, but Robinson said he wanted to give the 26-year-old another day to rest. Ryan Church again started in Kearns’ place.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page.

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