- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

MIAMI | The final near miss, in an afternoon full of near misses, kept the Washington Nationals from a shot at their first win of the season by the width of the leather on Brett Carroll's glove.

Austin Kearns sent a liner screaming toward Carroll and spinning toward the ground. The left fielder initially froze, then started running to make up for the precious tenths of a second lost. Manager Manny Acta screamed. Adam Dunn figured he'd wind up at third base with the game tied. Third-base coach Pat Listach sent runners streaming toward home plate.

But Carroll dived, sliding his glove in the inch or so between the baseball and the ground, and the Nationals' chance at avoiding a season-opening sweep to the Florida Marlins was over.

In a game where the biggest moments were often an umpire awarding first base or a ball bouncing this way or that, the Nationals ended up where they usually do against the Marlins: a little bit short. The 6-4 loss was their best chance to take a game from Florida, but wound up as their 17th defeat in 20 games against the Marlins because of the minutiae they couldn't manage.

Daniel Cabrera's first start with the Nationals turned on a bad slider and two poorly located fastballs. The 10 walks Washington drew off Marlins pitchers netted just three runs. And the piano-wire-tight ninth inning, when the Nationals made Florida closer Matt Lindstrom throw 32 pitches, ended with Carroll's sprawling snag of Kearns' liner.

It wasn't the same kind of authoritative beating as the first two games, but it was another loss.

“It's very frustrating,” said Dunn, who had three walks in his first game spelling Nick Johnson at first base. “That's kind of an excuse that it's only the third game. We had our chances to win this game, and we let them slip.”

To say Cabrera was smooth through the first three innings would be glossing over the handful of self-made predicaments he escaped with a handful of timely outs and a little luck. He walked two batters and threw a wild pitch in the first two innings, but none of those events led to runs. The first inning ended when Hanley Ramirez hit a one-hopper right in front of Willie Harris. Emilio Bonifacio, who was just off first base in case the ball was lined straight to Harris, was forced out easily at second for the first half of a double play.

Cabrera's second walk, his wild pitch and a single put runners on second and third with one out in the second inning. Cody Ross chopped a ball to Ryan Zimmerman, who decided to fire home in plenty of time for Wil Nieves to tag out Dan Uggla.

But the baling wire and chewing gum holding the start together wouldn't last through the fifth.

Cabrera gave up a single to Ross Gload to start the inning. It took two outs to move Gload from first to third, and when it appeared Cabrera could squirm out of another inning, his well-documented control issues got him in trouble.

He battled John Baker through a seven-pitch at-bat, giving up a single, but then missed with a fastball high and inside to Hanley Ramirez, which led to another single. Then Cabrera, who led the American League in hit batters last year, drilled Cantu with a fastball. That set the wall too high for Cabrera to scale one more time.

“I was trying to come in, like I'd been throwing all day to him,” Cabrera said. “It squirted out of my hand and hit him.”

His middle-away fastball got smacked by Uggla to center field for a double that scored three runs and gave Florida a 5-2 lead.

Cabrera left after six innings, having allowed seven runs on five hits with two walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman.

While the Marlins were jumping on enough mistakes to scratch out a lead, the Nationals missed almost every chance that came their way after taking a 2-0 lead off Florida starter Chris Volstad in the first inning.

In the sixth, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double, and Josh Willingham and Kearns walked to load the bases. Sensing his chance at a big inning, Acta sent out Ronnie Belliard and Josh Bard to pinch hit. Neither one could deliver.

In the eighth, two walks put runners on first and second with two outs. Alberto Gonzalez punched a pinch-hit single into the left-field corner, but that was all.

Their final shot was the ninth-inning battle against Lindstrom, during which the Nationals fouled off his 96 mph fastball time and again and drew two more walks, along with a single from Elijah Dukes and an extra out (or two) that came when Dan Uggla tried to tag Dukes before throwing to first but bobbled the ball, allowing Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman to reach safely.

Dunn drew the Nationals' 10th and final walk, but Willingham struck out. Then the rally died in Carroll's rawhide.

“I can't be annoyed with that last line drive,” Acta said. “Two feet either side, and we tie or take the lead in the game.”

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