- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 16, 2007

TORONTO -— To the untrained eye, the Washington Nationals looked sluggish and sloppy during last night’s 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Manager Manny Acta’s team was shaky in the field, didn’t get a good pitching performance and committed just about every type of silly mistake possible on the diamond.

Acta, though, believes the perception of the Nationals‘ less-than-inspired showing was not the product of his own club’s failures but of the dynamite work executed by Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.

“Teams usually look sluggish when the opposition pitches well and you can’t get any hits,” Acta said. “You’ve got to give credit to him. He overpowered us.”

And that, at the end of the evening, was the dominant story line of Washington’s first loss in five days. Halladay’s 71/3 innings of dominance far overshadowed anything else in this one.

Not that the Nationals (29-38) played the same kind of crisp, clean ballgame that has become the norm for much of the last two weeks. No, over the course of two hours and 48 minutes, a Rogers Centre crowd of 22,042 saw the visitors commit two errors, botch a couple of other plays in the field, allow two home runs, uncork a wild pitch, hit a batter and be called for a balk.

But perhaps all of that was a byproduct of their fruitless night at the plate against Halladay (7-2), who flashed the form that earned him the 2003 American League Cy Young Award.

Halladay,” Acta said. “Just give him credit. He was the guy.”

The 30-year-old right-hander dazzled the Nationals with his hard, late-breaking stuff, retiring the first eight batters he faced and refusing to allow a man to reach third base until Ryan Langerhans clubbed a two-run homer in the eighth.

Washington’s hitters knew what they were getting into when they stepped to the plate. And, imposing as Halladay is, they had no reason to feel intimidated after proving countless times this season they can beat some of the game’s preeminent pitchers. Already this year, the Nationals have bested John Smoltz (twice), Jake Peavy, Johan Santana and Cole Hamels.

“We knew it was going to be tough against him,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Any time you go against someone like him or Peavy or [Chris] Carpenter, you know it’s going to be a tough game. You’ve just got to grind it out and hope that you can scratch a couple of runs.”

That meant Nationals starter Mike Bacsik had little margin for error, and the left-hander wasn’t up to the challenge. He was roughed up for three runs on nine hits during 41/3 labored innings, continuing his downward trend of the last two weeks.

Bacsik burst onto the scene a month ago with authority, a savior from Class AAA Columbus whose three straight quality starts helped a team desperate for pitching. But the 29-year-old’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. He has failed to last more than five innings in his last three starts, during which time he owns a 7.90 ERA.

“I’ve just got to go out there when I get the ball and throw better,” Bacsik said. “Right now, I’m just a little off whack with my mechanics, which usually isn’t the case, because I’m walking guys.”

Bacsik (1-4) has now suffered four consecutive losses, though he wasn’t exactly helped last night by his teammates, who struggled on the spongy, green FieldTurf inside the dome.

One of Washington’s two errors was committed by Zimmerman, who tried to make a highlight-reel play on Curtis Thigpen’s fourth-inning bunt but wound up heaving the ball well over first baseman Dmitri Young’s head.

Thus, Zimmerman was charged with his 12th error of the season, only three fewer than he made in all of 2006 and currently tied with Florida’s Miguel Cabrera and Boston’s Mike Lowell for the most among major league third basemen.

Several of Zimmerman’s errors, though, have come on tough plays like the one last night. And for that reason, the 22-year-old isn’t about to change the way he plays in the field.

“I’m not going to not try to make a play because I’m scared to make an error,” he said. “I don’t care. I’ll make 30 errors if that’s the case. I’m going to try to make every play.”

The Nationals made far too few plays during last night’s game, but it was hard to fault them for a substandard showing given the high level of play they’ve sustained recently.

If anything, players inside the clubhouse afterward showed no signs of alarm. Perhaps having picked up on their calm and collected manager, they simply showered, got dressed and prepared to return to the park this afternoon with renewed determination.

“We’ve been doing it all year,” right fielder Austin Kearns said. “There’s no quit in here. Everybody still comes and plays hard, and I think that’s probably my favorite thing about this team. We’re still coming to play to win. There’s no hanging our heads or anything like that.”

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