- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another Opening Day, so to speak. Ho hum.

That happens when you take the field oh-fer the season and the season is a week old.

Reeling under the figurative weight of their 0-6 record, the Nats pretended that Monday's first game at Nationals Park was something special.

Try specious instead.

In their infinite lack of wisdom, commissioner Bud Selig and National League schedule-maker Katy Feeney have decreed that the Nats and Orioles will alternate holding a real Opening Day, which makes about as much sense as juggling the Inauguration between the nation's capital and Charm City. On Jan. 20, 2013, will President Obama or his successor be sworn in under the shadow of a giant crab cake rather than the Capitol dome?

Of course, most of the Nats had more pressing problems as they lurched into the ballpark - surprisingly, perhaps, not under the cover of darkness.

In a corner of the clubhouse, however, newcomer Adam Dunn mourned the early schedule as well as the early results. Dunn, you see, is a refugee from Cincinnati, where opening the season at home remains an unsullied tradition because the 1869 Reds were baseball's first truly professional team.

“I've never played an Opening Day game on the road,” the blond slugger said. “This is very strange, very weird.”

A man standing nearby said he wished the Nats had opened at home this year and would do so every year.

Dunn nodded. “Me, too.”

A short time later, manager Manny Acta was insisting he “still feels good about our young guys” when a listener inquired whether Acta feels comfortable sending out his laundry. It was a legitimate question because, as someone once noted, it's easier to fire the manager of a losing club than to dispatch 25 players.

“I put [the question of job security] out of my mind,” Manny insisted. “I know how our fans feel because I was a fan once. But now I can't think or react as a fan because I'm not one anymore.”

(Insert your own wisecrack here.)

“I'm a blessed human being,” Acta continued. “My hope is to be here for the next 20 years.”

In that case, the Nats had better start winning. Someday soon.

The pregame rites were routine, as usually happens when the president is otherwise occupied. Instead of Obama, the ceremonial first pitches were delivered by five members of the armed services who might have been auditioning for spots in the Nats' shaky starting rotation. And forget the traditional flyover by screaming military jets. This time we got four sputtering helicopters.

There were no immediate signs of a turnaround by the Nats. Leading 1-0 in the second, they remedied that unusual condition when second baseman Anderson Hernandez muffed a double-play grounder and Daniel Cabrera walked two batters and allowed rival Jamie Moyer, a 46-year-old gaffer with a .132 lifetime batting average, to smack a tiebreaking sac fly. The ultimate result was two unearned runs.

Ya gotta give the Nats credit for hanging in, though. They came back to tie it 4-4 on Elijah Dukes' solo home run in the fifth, but all that did was let the Phillies remind everyone why they are World Series champs. When Saul Rivera appeared in the seventh as the Nats' fourth pitcher, Ryan Howard smacked a three-run dinger and Raul Ibanez a solo job to make it 8-4.

But there is no quit in these Nats, which might bode well for a distant future. They went down swinging, with Ryan Zimmerman's two-run blast in the ninth cutting the final margin to 9-8. At least loss No. 7 was competitive.

Still, it would be nice to win one or two somewhere along the way. And right now, in case you thought matters couldn't get more depressing, consider this:

Twenty-one dismal springs ago, the Orioles contrived to lose their first 21 games - a record the wise guys said would never be equaled.

Only 14 more to go.


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