- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

NEW YORK | Insanity, as the saying goes, is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. In the confines of a baseball clubhouse, that expression is almost worthless.

This is a game in which players are intimately familiar with failure, bent on coming back the day after a demoralizing loss and resolving to change the outcome with a process that is, by most measures, the same as the one from the day before.

Repetition and failure don’t breed insanity in baseball. But some days, they can combine for a potently nasty result.

That was the case Saturday in the Washington Nationals’ 8-2 loss to the New York Mets, their eighth in as many road games this season and 16th in a row away from Nationals Park dating to last year. Time and again, the issues that cropped up in Friday’s loss to the Mets manifested themselves in an even grislier way. Friday’s game turned on misplayed fly balls in the third and sixth innings; Saturday’s turned on one in the first inning.

Washington missed its opportunities to win a close game against Mets ace Johan Santana on Friday. The Nationals lost chances even to get within striking distance against struggling right-hander Mike Pelfrey on Saturday.

“I think everyone’s out there playing hard,” outfielder Adam Dunn said. “We’re making mistakes that big league teams should not make, but we’re making them - and that’s what’s costing us games.”

The Nationals’ latest loss, which dropped them to 3-13, was tied for their most lopsided of the season. They committed three more errors, running their season total to 18, tied for the most in the National League. Their defense was unable to bail out starter Daniel Cabrera on a wild afternoon. Cabrera threw just 43 of his 86 pitches for strikes in 2 1/3 innings and didn’t help his case by walking four, giving up six hits and throwing a wild pitch. Only one of the five runs he allowed was earned.

The culprit, again, was the Nationals’ defense, just as it was Friday night.

In the first inning, David Wright lofted a two-out fly ball to center field with two men on base. Elijah Dukes backtracked on the ball and settled underneath it, his sunglasses resting on the brim of his cap and his uncovered eyes looking up in the sun. The ball landed two feet behind him, and two runners scored.

Ryan Church, who would have led off the second inning if Dukes made the catch, then singled to score another run.

It was Dukes’ first error of the season, but it followed a missed attempt at a diving catch that led to a Mets run in the third inning Friday night. This one prompted a terser reaction from manager Manny Acta.

“Go ask him [about it]. He’s out there,” Acta said. “I can answer questions for me and my team. I’m not going to be answering everybody’s question.”

When a team spokesman told Dukes that reporters wanted to talk to him, he declined with a profanity-laced response, saying, “It’s not the time to come ask me about some [stuff] like that.”

Dukes’ miscue wasn’t the only one. Nick Johnson’s throwing error in the third inning led to a run, as did Wil Nieves’ throwing error in the sixth. And Washington didn’t jump on its chances to get to Pelfrey, who entered with an 8.10 ERA.

Second baseman Anderson Hernandez got doubled off first base after Daniel Murphy made a sliding grab of Ryan Zimmerman’s liner in the first, ending the inning. The Nationals put the leadoff man on base in three of the next five innings but only scored two runs, both coming off base hits from Dukes.

They left 10 runners on base, going just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

It’s yet another common theme in a season quickly heading off-track. There is only one fix, however: Try it again the next day and hope something changes.

“Hey, we’ve just got to show up over here [Sunday] again, chin up, and be ready to play,” Acta said. “This one is over with. So are the last 15 games that we’ve played. We’ve just got to get ready for tomorrow again.”

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