- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NEW YORK — They chatted around the batting cage before the game, shaking hands and embracing their former teammates. It was a bit of an odd scene, Brian Schneider and Ryan Church wearing New York Mets pinstripes instead of Washington Nationals navy and red.

But, get used to it, because last night’s meeting of the two clubs at Shea Stadium was only the first of 18 head-to-head matchups this season and of countless more National League East showdowns in the future.

And unless the new-look Nationals can start scoring runs, last night’s 6-0 Mets’ win might be a precursor of things to come.

With all players on both sides wearing uniform No. 42 to commemorate Jackie Robinson Day, New York cruised to victory behind seven innings from starter Mike Pelfrey and some timely big plays, including a few from Schneider and Church.

Combined with another lackluster performance from a Washington lineup that entered with a major league-worst .232 batting average, the Nationals had little chance of avoiding their 10th loss in 11 games.

“We continue to struggle with guys in scoring position,” manager Manny Acta said. “And you have to score to win.”

The underlying story line to this game was the first matchup between the Nationals and Mets since the Nov. 30 trade that sent Church and Schneider to New York in exchange for Lastings Milledge.

Both new Mets insisted beforehand they weren’t going to let the sight of their ex-teammates on the other side of the field get to them.

“It’s just another day, another game,” said Church, who faced the Nationals last month in Viera, Fla. “I try not get caught up in all the emotion. I got that all over with in spring training.”

It didn’t take long for the principles involved in the trade to make an impact in their first head-to-head meeting.

Milledge laced a one-out double in the top of the first, then tried to steal third. But Schneider gunned Milledge down as the crowd roared.

“I really wanted to get on third and really get things started,” Milledge said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit getting runners in from second, so I felt like I could take third and get us up 1-0. I had a pretty good jump, but Schneider made a good throw.”

Schneider threw out Ronnie Belliard at second two innings later on Odalis Perez’s failed sacrifice bunt attempt.

Church, the No. 2 hitter in manager Willie Randolph’s lineup, got the Mets’ first rally going in the bottom of the first with a one-out single to center. Moments later, David Wright lofted a 1-1 pitch from Perez just over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.

Pelfrey (2-0) ensured those two runs would hold up the entire night. The lanky right-hander got himself into a little bit of trouble but kept pitching himself out of it and held the Nationals scoreless through the seventh.

Milledge’s caught stealing in the first didn’t help Washington’s cause, nor did Austin Kearns’ NL-leading fifth double-play grounder of the season. And with one out and the bases loaded in the third, Ryan Zimmerman popped up on Pelfrey’s first pitch and Nick Johnson followed by striking out.

The Nationals are hitting .189 with two outs and runners in scoring position, which Acta considers as a failure in execution.

“The hitting plan is basically get a pitch you can handle,” Acta said. “They are following it, but they are human. Right now, it’s not happening for us.”

However, Perez’s performance pleased Acta. The veteran lefty, who fell to 0-3, rebounded from his shaky first inning to hold the Mets scoreless for the next five.

“The results might be negative,” Perez said. “But the way I’m throwing the ball, I believe everything’s good.”

The Nationals bullpen allowed two tack-on runs a piece in the seventh and eighth, not that it mattered much at that point because of the team’s offensive struggles.

“We’re a lot better than what we’re showing,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just going to take one or two big hits and then I think we’ll start rolling. But I guess I’d say it’s disappointing.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT SHEA STADIUM

NEW YORK — Rising high beyond the outfield fence, Citi Field has come a long way since the last time the Nationals were in town.

The Mets’ new home, scheduled to open next season, looks sort of like Nationals Park did this time last year. The exterior looks nearly complete, but the interior is bare.

The stadium is modeled in part after Ebbets Field, and sure enough the main home plate entryway will be named the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, in honor of the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Mark Zuckerman

BY THE NUMBERS

9

Teams who had every player wear No. 42 yesterday in honor of Jackie Robinson Day: the Nationals, Angels, Dodgers, Mets, Athletics, Pirates, Cardinals, Rays and Rangers.

TONIGHT’S GAME

Nationals LHP Matt Chico Record, ERA: 0-2, 3.72

Mets RHP John Maine Record, ERA: 1-0, 4.50

Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: MASN

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