- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

They entered the weekend as contemporaries, identical twins enduring similarly disappointing seasons and trying just to avoid coming out of it even worse off.

By late Sunday afternoon, the San Diego Padres had accomplished their mission. The Washington Nationals had not.

Sunday’s 6-2 loss capped a San Diego sweep as Washington emerged looking far inferior to its fellow National League cellar dweller.

Both teams came into the weekend with identical records. The Nationals came out of it entrenched as the NL’s worst team, now 58-98 and left only to battle it out with the Seattle Mariners (58-98) for the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft.

“Hey, the Padres are a major league team,” manager Manny Acta said when asked how disheartening it was to lose three in a row to San Diego.

A crowd of 29,608 saw firsthand Sunday all that ails both of these clubs. The Padres struck out 15 times and often looked helpless at the plate against Odalis Perez. Yet they cruised to victory then and throughout the weekend, winning three games by a combined score of 23-9.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “If you don’t play good enough to win in this league, you’re going to get beat.”

The Nationals didn’t come close to playing well enough to win despite getting a solid pitching performance from Perez. The veteran left-hander struck out 11 in six innings.

But Perez (7-11) was done in by a couple of costly mistakes, leading to a two-run double by Kevin Kouzmanoff in the first and a solo homer by Adrian Gonzalez in the sixth. And he was done in by a Washington lineup that cobbled together one run and five hits off right-hander Cha Seung Baek.

Only Zimmerman, who homered in the sixth and drove in another run in the eighth, found success at the plate in a ballgame that featured several gaffes by the Nationals in that same inning.

It began with Edgar Gonzalez’s routine grounder to third. Zimmerman threw wide to first, but Aaron Boone caught the ball and appeared to tag Gonzalez for the out. First base umpire Paul Emmel, though, ruled the runner safe even though replays showed Boone applying the tag before Gonzalez stepped on the base.

“He just blew it,” Acta said. “Just a bad call. Unfortunately it didn’t help us, and it started a rally for them.”

The Padres went on to score three runs, the last of which came on a sacrifice fly that right fielder Elijah Dukes mistakenly thought was the inning’s third out. Dukes began trotting in from his position after the catch, only to realize there was still one out to go.

“That’s the reason why I don’t put all of these guys in the Hall of Fame yet,” Acta said. “You have to be patient and let these guys play because one, two, three, 10 games doesn’t tell you the whole story. It’s just unfortunate.”

So, too, was getting swept in this series, even if it leaves the Nationals in better position to select San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg first with the top pick in next summer’s draft. The Nationals need to finish out 5-1 against the Florida Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies to avoid 100 losses. Not that the story to this season would change one way or the other.

“I mean, if we win out and only lose 98, it’s still a horrible season to our standards compared to if we lose 104,” Zimmerman said. “I think it’s to the point now where it’s been a disappointing season.”

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