- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2009

— The problems that beset the Washington Nationals on Saturday night were mostly the problems that have beset them all year - a starting pitcher learning on the job, an offense that leaves runners on base too often and a bullpen that seemingly gives up one run too many on a good night.

The Baltimore Orioles don’t have those issues to the same degree, which is why they are a few steps ahead of the Nationals in their sort-of rivalry.

Saturday night’s 6-3 Baltimore victory was the latest example of that. The home run that Josh Willingham never saw was merely the difference in a game the Orioles commanded because they didn’t fall into the same traps as the Nationals.

Baltimore’s win clinched the Orioles’ first season-series victory against the Nationals and was a primer in the difference between the two teams. Both are in last place, but the Orioles’ record is 11 1/2 games better because they have several more young players in place, a few reliable pieces in the bullpen and an offense that mostly comes through in important situations.

The Nationals fell short in all of those areas Saturday, missing a chance to break the game open after their first four batters reached base. That inning ended just like the sixth - on a bases-loaded double play off the bat of a player not likely in the Nationals’ future plans.

“Tonight, those guys that got into those situations [Ronnie Belliard and Austin Kearns], they’ve been struggling all year,” manager Manny Acta said. “So that was kind of convenient for them. The main thing is, we’ve got to take a step back and revisit the hitting approach we’re having.”

Six days after getting beat up against Toronto, Nationals starter Shairon Martis was only slightly better Saturday night. He threw 57 strikes in 98 pitches, the sixth time in eight starts he has failed to throw 60 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Martis overcame his early control problems, striking out Luke Scott after he loaded the bases in the first inning and stranding runners in the third and fourth. But he gave up a homer to Gregg Zaun in the second, the first of two homers the Orioles hit off Martis.

The second homer was decidedly more bizarre.

With two on and two out in the fifth, Reimold squared a change-up from Martis and lofted it deep to left. It hung in the air for what seemed like minutes as Willingham tried to distinguish it from the dozens of circular white lightbulbs glaring back at him.

Willingham put his right hand and his glove up in the air, signaling he had lost the ball, and it reappeared a second later - just over the left-field wall. Though no one in the Nationals’ clubhouse said he thought Willingham could have pulled the ball back, he never got a chance to prove them wrong.

“I saw where the ball was going,” Willingham said. “I knew it was coming at me. But as far as depthwise, I had no idea.”

The three-run shot put Baltimore up 4-3. That lead would grow to two in the seventh, when Joe Beimel - brought in to face left-handers Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff - gave up a solo home run to Huff.

Washington’s offense, presented with numerous opportunities to seize control, only scored enough runs to bring Orioles closer George Sherrill out in the ninth to shut the Nationals down.

“I think [the toughest inning] was the first one,” Acta said. “We had [Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie] on the ropes, bases loaded with no outs, basically, and we ended up scoring one run after that. The sixth inning was the same thing. But the first inning set the tone.”

Kearns did drive in a run when he pinched a single inside the left-field line in the fourth, his first RBI since May 7. But it was the only hit the Nationals got with runners in scoring position all night.

“Everybody’s trying,” center fielder Willie Harris said. “Guys aren’t trying to roll over [pitches] and hit into a double play. They made their pitches, and they got us.”

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