- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

Many of the symptoms of Wednesday night’s loss, the Washington Nationals’ 44th of the season, might have been a little more exotic than most: a pickoff, a bobbled ball before a relay throw, two more fielding errors and a near-triple play.

Others were more common to this clunky campaign: an offense unable to hit with runners in scoring position and a return showing from a bullpen incapable of keeping an opponent within reasonable range of a comeback.

The end result was plenty familiar: a game against the Minnesota Twins that spiraled from manageable to mediocre to mortifying, ending in an 11-2 Twins victory.

The loss dropped Washington to 4-4 on its nine-game road trip after a 4-2 start. And though the Nationals can salvage a winning road trip Thursday afternoon, they will have to shed the malaise that took this one out of their hands.

“This is what we have,” manager Manny Acta said. “We’ve got all these young guys. We’re going to be patient when they don’t do anything, like tonight, and we’re going to enjoy it when they do stuff and we win ballgames.”

Things started to unravel early, with Carlos Gomez scoring a first-inning run set up by Aaron Boone’s throwing error.

In the third inning, Jason Kubel reached third on Brian Buscher’s single, sliding into the bag as Cristian Guzman’s relay throw ricocheted off Boone’s glove. Then, Kubel scored as Brendan Harris doubled off the wall in right-center. Lastings Milledge played the carom but dropped the ball as he took it out of his glove. The relay home was too late and off target, and Buscher slid in safely for a 3-0 Twins lead.

“I couldn’t grip it,” Milledge said. “I thought we still had a play at home. If I would have fielded it cleanly, the run would have never scored.”

Still, two of those runs were unearned, and Washington starter Jason Bergmann did his part to prevent any further damage. He allowed just two baserunners from the third through the fifth - one of which was on the Nationals’ third error of the game.

He finished with only one earned run allowed on five hits in six innings, his best start in nearly three weeks. But it wasn’t enough to get Bergmann his first win since May 15, not with the Nationals’ offense again unable to beat a starter who needed to do little more than throw strikes.

Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey held the Nationals to one run in six innings with his ability to put a pitch on the outside half of the plate and get rally-killing groundouts.

“He won. It doesn’t matter how good he was,” Milledge said. “I’m not going to sit here and say he was Cy Young. He pitched well enough to win the game.”

Washington pulled within two in the fifth inning when Felipe Lopez sent Slowey’s fastball into the upper deck, and the Nationals followed it with a pair of two-out hits later in the inning. But it ended without more runs once Milledge grounded a first-pitch slider from Slowey to first base.

The sixth inning came and went with another aborted rally. This time, the Nationals put runners on first and second with one out only to strand Dmitri Young at third after Paul Lo Duca fouled out to first.

Another chance produced nothing in the seventh inning, with two walks and a hit batter negated by two strikeouts and a bases-loaded Jesus Flores pop-up. And any hope of a comeback slipped away for good when the Twins gashed a wild Washington bullpen, starting with Saul Rivera.

Only nine of Rivera’s 23 pitches were strikes, and his successor didn’t do much better. Jesus Colome managed 13 strikes in his 24 pitches but gave up RBI singles to Gomez and Morneau, threw a wild pitch and walked two batters, both of whom scored when Brian Sanches entered the game.

Neither Rivera nor Colome had allowed a run in their last 15 innings combined. They were tagged for seven Wednesday night.

And if just to underscore the point, the Nationals got back-to-back hits to start the eighth, only to watch Lo Duca hit into a 5-4-3 double play that could have been a triple play had second-base umpire Tim McClelland ruled Lopez out at second on the grounds that Alexi Casilla was in the neighborhood of the bag when he took a throw from Buscher.

“We lost a tough one yesterday and got [a loss] today,” Milledge said. “We’ve got to come out here tomorrow. We can’t get down.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide