- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

DENVER — The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 11-8 last night, but to be honest, neither team deserved to win this ballgame.

Not the Rockies, who kept trying to hand victory back to the Nationals, particularly during a three-run eighth inning that featured a pair of errors as ugly as anything ever seen on a big-league field.

And certainly not the Nationals, who committed an astounding six errors to raise their season total to a major league-high 121, blew leads in both the seventh and eighth innings.

This was meaningless September baseball at its finest … or worst, depending on one’s perspective. Two teams playing out the string with rosters full of rookies. Poor pitching performances. Lots of blown leads. And shoddy defense. Really shoddy defense.

In the end, the Rockies “earned” the win thanks to a generous Washington squad that did everything within its power to give the game away.

The Nationals had been in position to win after scoring three runs in the eighth, an inning that featured a clutch, two-run double from pinch-hitter Ryan Church but was made possible by two ghastly Colorado errors.

With two outs and a runner on second, Brian Schneider hit a routine grounder to first. Rockies reliever Jose Mesa, though, dropped a routine throw as he went to cover the bag, and the inning was prolonged.

Church followed with a double to left-center off left-hander Tom Martin, his 18th and 19th RBI in 37 games since returning from Class AAA New Orleans, tying the game.

And if that wasn’t enough, Church scored moments later when Martin threw wild after fielding Henry Mateo’s bouncer back to the mound.

That put the Nationals ahead, 8-7, but this one was far from over. Washington’s Jon Rauch came on to pitch the eighth and immediately walked the leadoff man, prompting a rare mound visit from manager Frank Robinson.

It all came crumbling down after that. A one-out single put runners on the corners, and a Brad Hawpe sacrifice fly tied the game 8-8. After intentionally walking Troy Tulowitzki, Rauch (3-4) surrendered an RBI single to Chris Iannetta (who had been 0 for his last 21) and now the Rockies had the lead.

And they weren’t done. A Jeff Salazar single made it 10-8, and a subsequent Ryan Zimmerman throwing error (the Nationals’ season-high sixth of the night) made it 11-8.

All of that came after an unsightly seventh inning by the Nationals defense, in which three of the errors were committed.

Having just taken a 5-4 lead on pinch-hitter George Lombard’s first home run since April 19, 2003, Washington quickly gave it back.

Rookie infielder Melvin Dorta, who replaced shortstop Felipe Lopez in the third inning after the latter bruised his right ankle, started things off by bobbling Matt Holliday’s leadoff grounder and then threw it away. A double by Hawpe put runners on second and third, and after getting a fly out, reliever Saul Rivera appeared to get out of the jam when he snared Iannetta’s comebacker and caught Holliday in a rundown.

Rivera, though, fired way wide of third base, and that’s when the merry-go-round fired up. Holliday scored. Hawpe scored. Iannetta wound up on third after Zimmerman’s throw to the plate hit Hawpe for an error. A RBI single by Salazar capped the rally.

The Nationals came into the game knowing they couldn’t afford to make many mistakes in the field, considering who was on the mound. Starter Tony Armas Jr. has had enough trouble all season recording outs without having his teammates give them away. So that made last night’s events all the more troublesome.

It began in the second inning, when Armas twice induced routine double-play grounders to second then watched as Washington failed to turn either. Second baseman Jose Vidro was the first culprit, throwing wide to Lopez and only recording the force out. Two batter later, Lopez committed his team-high 25th error of the season when he dropped Vidro’s waist-high feed.

Instead of an inning-ending double play, the Nationals faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam, and the Rockies made them pay by scoring a run on Salazar’s chopper over the mound.

Colorado scored two more in the third when left fielder Alfonso Soriano got his glove on but could not catch Hawpe’s sinking liner. The play was correctly scored a double, though Soriano could have made the running catch.

Then in the fourth, perhaps Washington’s ugliest play of the night: a shallow fly ball to center field that bounced in and out of Nook Logan’s glove for an error. That run, too, wound up scoring, giving the Rockies a 4-1 lead.

By the time Armas departed two batters into the sixth inning, his pitching line looked both impressive (only two earned runs) and atrocious (seven walks, three intentional, no strikeouts, 57 strikes, 56 balls).

And yet the right-hander did not figure into the decision, because his mates rallied to tie the game with a three-run sixth off Byung-Hyun Kim. A two-run homer by Nick Johnson to center (his second in as many days) cut the lead to 4-3, and Vidro’s second RBI hit of the night tied the game moments later.

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



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