- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

The San Diego Padres showed up Friday believing they had the inside track on the title of “Worst Team in Baseball” - at least for the past month.

Then they paid a visit to NatsTown and quickly learned the locals have already staked claim to that designation and have no intention of handing it over. With a 6-2 loss before a ho-hum crowd of 23,506, the Nationals managed to play some of their worst ball of the season while making the woebegone Padres look like a well-oiled machine.

San Diego entered with a ghastly 3-17 record this month, a roster ravaged by injuries and a starting lineup that included only one player with a batting average above .248. None of that mattered on this night. The Nationals elected to counter the Padres’ ineptitude with an even uglier display that included four errors and other manner of incompetence, all of it culminating in a postgame chew-out session from interim manager Jim Riggleman.

“I let them know about the importance in having pride in the uniform, having pride in the fact that you signed a contract and you’ve got to play it out,” Riggleman said. “We owed it to the people who paid to watch that tonight. We owed them a better effort than that.”

The tepid crowd got a tepid performance from Washington, which fell to 28-68 and distanced itself from San Diego (38-59) in the race for next year’s No. 1 draft pick. This one was ugly from the get-go, with right-hander Garrett Mock handing the Padres a 2-0 lead in the first via a single, a passed ball, a throwing error by Mock, a sacrifice fly and an RBI double.

“We weren’t into it early,” Riggleman said. “I don’t know how you can’t be into it, but we weren’t, and that’s my responsibility - to make sure they are into it.”

It kept spiraling downward from there. Mock (0-4) settled down enough to reach the sixth, but he was done in by a pair of big hits from light-hitting Luis Rodriguez. He entered with a .167 average, zero homers and two RBI in his past 40 games but slugged a solo homer and drove home two more with a single that chased Mock.

Washington sprinkled three more errors in there for good measure, bringing its season total to a major league-high 94 on miscues by Adam Dunn, Josh Bard and Jason Bergmann.

“The fans don’t deserve for us to come out and play sloppy like that,” Bard said. “We’re playing one of the worst teams in baseball, and they kicked our butt tonight.”

After all that, the Nationals still had multiple opportunities to get back in the game and even tie it. Alas, the only meaningful hits they produced against rookie Mat Latos and the San Diego bullpen were solo homers by Cristian Guzman in the first and Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth.

Put a man on base, however, and watch Washington’s batters flail away with little hope of making solid contact. With two on and nobody out in the fourth, Dunn grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

And presented with an opportunity to tie the score in the seventh - bases loaded, two outs - Guzman ignored the fact Padres reliever Luke Gregerson had walked and plunked the two previous batters and swung at three straight breaking balls, missing badly at the final one for a rally-killing strikeout.

“I don’t even get upset about the not hitting with men on base,” Riggleman said. “I get upset about the other stuff: the not making plays, the not getting signs, the details of the game. We’ve got to take care of the details of the game.”

So the interim manager, whose record stands at 2-7, stressed all that afterward in an R-rated clubhouse rant that seemed to strike a nerve with his players.

“He got his point across,” outfielder Willie Harris said. “He pretty much said we played flat. We didn’t go out with a whole lot of energy. He didn’t like that. And I wouldn’t like that either as a manager, because it somewhat reflects on a manager.

“I don’t blame him for what he said. You’ve got to try to light a fire in here somehow.”

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