- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

NEW YORK — Yes, they scored two early runs for the first time all season. And yes, they got a solid pitching performance from John Patterson.

But by the time the Washington Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the New York Mets last night was complete, manager Manny Acta couldn’t help but look back and wonder what might have been had his club taken better advantage of their early opportunities and opened up a much more comfortable lead on the defending National League East champs.

“They have so many weapons, and they can do so many things,” Acta said. “That’s why you can’t let them off the hook. You can’t expect to beat that club 2-1 every single day.”

The Nationals tried to beat the Mets in that kind of low-scoring affair. Despite carrying a 2-1 lead into the latter stages of the game at Shea Stadium, they gave it back when Carlos Delgado and Julio Franco delivered RBI singles in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively.

Franco’s two-out, pinch-hit single up the middle off reliever Ryan Wagner proved to be the game-winner, but Acta wasn’t blaming his pitching staff for this loss. Again, he couldn’t get past his offense’s missed opportunities.

The Nationals (2-9) loaded the bases twice in the game and had only those two early runs to show for it. They also hit into three double plays in the first five innings, leading to a sinking feeling in the dugout.

“You know that later on, it might catch up to you,” Acta said.

On a bone-chilling night — game-time temperature was 46 degrees, with a 26 mph wind swirling around the ballpark — Washington turned to its ace and asked him to keep his team in the game.

Patterson, a Texas native who admittedly isn’t a fan of cold weather, proved to be up to the challenge. Though he surrendered a first-inning run, he bounced back and wound up turning in his best performance of the season. The much-discussed velocity on his fastball remained surprisingly low, at times reaching only 86 mph, but his breaking balls had bite, and that kept New York’s vaunted lineup in check.

If Patterson was guilty of anything, it was tiring a bit early given his overall dominance. In 51/3 innings, he gave up only two hits and three walks. But before taking the mound for the sixth, he told his manager he was starting to tire. After throwing his 76th pitch of the night, he was removed for left-hander Micah Bowie with a man on second and the heart of the Mets lineup on deck.

“I was cold. I was tightening up,” Patterson said. “I didn’t want to put the team in a situation of me trying to be a hero or anything else. We’re trying to win games. I felt like I was going as far as I could go at that point. And I handed it over to the guys who were fresh and could maybe contribute a little better than I could at that point.”

The bullpen couldn’t come through. Bowie, who hadn’t allowed any of his eight previously inherited runners to score, struck out Carlos Beltran on a nasty slider for out No. 2. But Delgado got the best of him, lining a single to right that scored Jose Reyes, tied the game and prevented Patterson from earning his first win of the year.

“Tough, tough day to pitch out there,” Acta said. “[Patterson’s] pitches were not as sharp as the inning before, so I didn’t want to take a chance.”

One inning later, Wagner (0-1) gave up the go-ahead run. The reliever allowed a leadoff single to David Wright, then watched as Wright swiped second (the Mets’ third stolen base of the game).

Wagner managed to get a pair of flyouts but then made perhaps his biggest mistake, walking No. 8 hitter Jose Valentin. That allowed New York manager Willie Randolph to summon Franco from his bench for the key at-bat of the night. And Franco, who turns 49 this August, delivered, rapping a ground-ball single up the middle to bring Wright home with the eventual game-winning run.

“I threw the ball well,” Wagner said. “I think it was a little case of some bad luck. I got my ground balls. They just didn’t go at somebody.”

And the Nationals’ lineup couldn’t drive a ball past the Mets’ infield when it counted most.

“A couple of times we had the bases loaded and just couldn’t get the job done,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “The pitching staff did a great job for us. They deserved to get a victory.”

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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