- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

All those good vibes the Washington Nationals produced the first week of August with a revamped roster that began playing an exciting and crisp brand of baseball? They’re gone.

One week of horrid execution, capped off by Wednesday’s 12-0 trouncing at the hands of the New York Mets, has vanquished all memory of that brief upswing. All that remains is a last-place club on a six-game losing streak that right now looks completely overmatched against the National League’s better competition.

This latest loss, in which starter Jason Bergmann was torched for 10 runs in three innings, certainly qualifies as a leading candidate for “Worst Game of the Year.” It was the Nationals’ most-lopsided loss since a 13-0 defeat in Atlanta on June 27, 2007.

This one was over by the end of the third inning, forcing many among the crowd of 30,814 at Nationals Park to the exits well before anyone ever expected to be heading home, but afterward manager Manny Acta didn’t want to dwell on it more than was necessary.

“It counts like one [loss],” Acta said. “This doesn’t count for two or for 12. It was a game. We lost. Just like the game last night, except that it wasn’t very pretty.”

Still, Washington (44-77) has dropped six straight to the wild card contending Brewers and Mets by a combined score of 39-8. Three of those losses came via shutout, giving the Nationals a major league-leading 18 for the season.

“If you look back this last week, we’ve faced guys like [Ben] Sheets and [CC] Sabathia and [Johan] Santana,” left fielder Willie Harris said. “I don’t think a lot of people are beating those guys. I’m not saying we can’t beat those guys, but the last week, that’s who we’ve run into. Those guys are the best pitchers in the game. We battled them and came up short.”

It wouldn’t have mattered who was on the mound for the Mets on Wednesday night, whether it was John Maine (who earned the win with five innings of one-hit ball) or a 19-year-old righty promoted from Class A to make his big league debut.

The primary culprit in this game was Bergmann, who had been on a prolonged stretch of quality pitching until he took the mound against New York. The right-hander labored from the start, allowing solo runs in the first and second innings before imploding in the third.

That eight-run inning featured only four hits (three of them singles) but also boasted five walks, including a four-pitch free pass to No. 8 hitter Brian Schneider and bases-loaded walks to Maine and Carlos Delgado.

“I didn’t have anything working at that time,” said Bergmann, who threw 51 pitches in the inning. “I couldn’t trust anything.”

The walks drew boos from the crowd, but the heartiest jeers came when Cristian Guzman allowed a tailor-made double-play grounder to skip through his legs, allowing two runs to score. The crowd groaned at a play that was inexplicably ruled a base hit but two innings later was correctly changed to an error on the shortstop.

Thus, Bergmann’s ERA briefly had jumped all the way from 4.13 before the game to 4.84 before ultimately settling in at 4.51.

Under different circumstances, he might have been pulled much earlier. But with the Nationals’ bullpen overworked in recent days, Acta had no choice but to leave Bergmann out there as a sacrificial lamb.

“We have to do what we have to do,” the manager said. “There are times when the pitchers have to take it on the chin for their teammates.”

An outing like this one back in April would have earned Bergmann (2-9) a one-way ticket to Columbus - actually, it did earlier this season - but at this stage of the season it was merely a hiccup on a most forgettable night.

“The only thing I’m going to take from today is to just forget about it,” Bergmann said. “Really, I think that’s the best way to approach it. Best remembered for forgetting it.”

That sentiment could apply to the Nationals’ entire clubhouse, which is mired in a funk at the moment with plenty of season left.

“We’ve just got to continue to fight and grind it out,” Harris said. “It’s the dog days right now. We’ve only got, what, 40-something games left. Just try to finish up strong and leave an impression on the front office.”

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