- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

The infield was a soupy mixture of mud, large puddles and Diamond Dry. Sandbags lined the dugouts and batting tunnels in an effort to avoid flooding. The rain fell in waves, at times turning sideways from the strong wind that circled around RFK Stadium as the remnants of a tropical storm swept through town.

And yet they played baseball yesterday afternoon. Somehow, the grounds crew managed to keep the pitcher’s mound together, the infield semi-playable and the dugouts dry. The 26,967 fans in attendance did their best to battle the elements, taking refuge in the covered sections of the ballpark yet still needing to wear bright-colored ponchos to keep themselves from turning into prunes.

When it was over, the Washington Nationals had been dealt a 7-3 loss by the San Diego Padres, who took advantage of some key defensive miscues to leave town with a comfortable victory.

The Nationals, though, may have considered themselves victorious (or at least lucky) after surviving this mud wrestling match without suffering any injuries.

“I am glad we got it through without anyone getting hurt,” manager Manny Acta said. “I kind of did a lot of praying out there throughout the nine innings.”

Pitchers from both sides were tentative on the mound, not wanting to lose footing and pull a groin or hamstring muscle. Infielders waded through the slop with caution. Batters dug into the muddy box and hoped for the best.

“Terrible, terrible and even worse,” said Padres starter David Wells, who earned the win with five effective innings. “You were lucky to have a dry ball at any given time. It was terrible. I’m glad we played, but I don’t know why we should.”

The game was played because Nationals officials didn’t want to send a large Sunday crowd (including thousands of Little Leaguers who paraded around the warning track pregame) home and ask everyone to come back this afternoon for a makeup date. Both teams have today off and could have returned, but there would have been a problem finding an available umpiring crew (because yesterday’s quartet had to leave town for the start of another series).

So they played, taking breaks every half-inning for the grounds crew to emerge and try to sop up various spots in the infield where standing water had developed.

“It was better to go ahead and play the game than to hang around and kind of mess up our schedule tomorrow,” Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think it kind of looked a lot worse than it really was.”

Even if the weather had nothing to do with it, the Nationals came out sloppy and suffered for it.

Right-hander Jason Simontacchi surrendered a leadoff single to Marcus Giles in the first, then charged in to field Terrmel Sledge’s sacrifice bunt attempt. But when Simontacchi whirled to throw to first, no one was there. First baseman Dmitri Young also had come charging in to field the ball, and second baseman Ronnie Belliard never broke to cover.

“It’s just like an error,” Simontacchi said. “I have no control over that, so I’ve got to be able to take the ball and help us minimize the problem. Obviously, I didn’t do that.”

Two batters later, Simontacchi threw a fastball low and in to cleanup man Josh Bard, who lofted it high over the right-field fence for a three-run homer.

The Nationals tied the game in the third when Belliard hit an RBI double to left and Zimmerman followed with a mammoth two-run homer down the left-field line that was the first to reach the 500 level at RFK Stadium since baseball returned in 2005.

But Zimmerman also helped give the lead back to the Padres in the fifth with his 10th error of the season. Hiram Bocachica broke the tie with a solo homer to left, but Zimmerman prolonged the inning with two outs by bouncing a throw to first on Giles’ grounder. Simontacchi wound up walking the next batter, then was tagged for a two-run double by Adrian Gonzalez that put the game out of reach.

Thus ended a strange day for Simontacchi (2-4), who was charged with four earned runs in 42/3 innings and probably deserved a better fate, yet still made the crucial mistakes that turned the game around.

“Not good enough,” he said in evaluating his performance. “The conditions weren’t obviously fair, but it’s just frustrating. There’s pitches you throw down the middle and they pop up, and there’s pitches you throw good pitches and they put good swings on them. It’s just a weird game.”

Left fielder Ryan Church concurred.

“It [stunk],” he said. “I can’t believe we got it in.”

Want more Nats? Check out Nats Home Plate.

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