- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

He sneaked into the owner’s box in the bottom of the first, unbeknownst to most of the RFK Stadium crowd of 22,594, except perhaps for those who noticed the two guys with rifles stationed on the roof high above right field.

“I saw a couple snipers out there,” right-hander Jason Bergmann said. “I was worried they were going to take me out.”

Yes, the Washington Nationals’ first fan made his first appearance of the season at the ballpark, hoping to enjoy a few hours away from the office and perhaps witness a victory by the home team.

But by night’s end, President Bush knew firsthand what Nationals fans have known for the last two weeks: This team can’t hit.

After a brief offensive fireworks display on Independence Day, Washington’s bats were held in check last night during a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

The Nationals lost for the ninth time in 12 games, a stretch in which they have scored more than three runs only once — in Wednesday’s 6-0 win. Not even the most powerful man in the world could coax a little offense out of them.

“We’ve been through it for a while now,” manager Manny Acta said. “It’s baseball. We’re going to snap out of it like we did before. We’re going to start getting some hits.”

The president has attended four Nationals games over the last 2½ years — he was at Opening Night plus another game later in the summer of 2005, then returned once last season with the First Lady and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — and the last two have been Washington losses.

Last night, the commander in chief chatted with team executives in the owner’s box for six innings. He saw the Cubs take an early 2-0 lead on Bergmann. He saw the Nationals rally to tie the game. He saw a 10-foot-tall likeness of Thomas Jefferson outrace three competitors.

And before leaving following the bottom of the seventh, he saw the Cubs take the lead for good with a pair of runs off reliever Luis Ayala.

Washington (34-51) tried to rally once the president had left the building, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth. But Brian Schneider roped a line drive that surely would have been a single or double had it not been hit right at Ward at first base for the final out of the inning.

“Looking out at the field, there’s so many holes,” Schneider said. “It’s like, why did it have to go there? But I can’t complain. I hit the ball hard, and that’s all you can do. Obviously, you want that ball to go through, but I can’t hit a harder line drive.”

The lack of offense again overshadowed a solid start by Bergmann, who still has only one win this season despite a 3.47 ERA in 11 starts.

Why? Because the Nationals score an average of 2.37 runs a game when the right-hander starts, the second-lowest rate in the majors. Recently demoted St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Anthony Reyes has gotten only 1.95 runs a start.

“You can’t let it get to you,” Bergmann said. “You start thinking about, ‘When am I going to get a run?’ It affects your pitching. They’re doing the best job they can.”

Bergmann certainly didn’t let the lack of support get to him on the field. As always, he simply went out and did his job, allowing two runs over 51/3 competent innings, his only mistakes a broken-bat RBI single by Aramis Ramirez in the fourth and an RBI double by Ward in the sixth.

When Bergmann departed one batter later, the Nationals were trailing 2-0 and any hope of season victory No. 2 was out of the question.

Washington did get Bergmann off the hook by rallying to tie the game in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman beat out a slow bouncer to the left side of the infield when third baseman Ramirez and shortstop Cesar Izturis collided. Dmitri Young then sent a drive deep to right and over Mark DeRosa’s head.

The crowd roared as Zimmerman came around to score, then gasped as Young went chugging for third. The burly slugger, who joked Wednesday that the only way he ever would hit a triple would be if they moved the outfield fences back 30 feet, slid in safely with his first three-bagger since Aug. 6, 2006, held out his tongue like an overheated bloodhound and soaked in the admiration of an appreciative crowd.

“I need oxygen right now,” he said.

Moments later, Young scored on Kearns’ sacrifice fly, leaving the game tied, Bergmann off the hook and the night’s most notable fan applauding.

The Nationals may not have won for the president, but at least they gave him something to cheer about in his season debut at RFK.

“It’s about time he made it to a game,” Young said.

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