- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Perhaps the worst thing the Washington Nationals could have done in the ninth Tuesday night was rally to score only one run and force this ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates into extra innings.

Not that the game-tying rally wasn’t impressive, and it certainly gave the Nationals Park crowd reason to believe for a change. But in failing to finish the Pirates off when they had the chance, the Nationals left the game in the hands of the majors’ worst bullpen.

And they know how that usually works out.

“Obviously, everybody knows the situation that we’re in with our bullpen,” manager Manny Acta said. “You don’t want to go into a battle of bullpens with anybody right now the way we are.”

But they did get into a bullpen battle Tuesday night, and so it was that Joe Beimel surrendered three runs in the 10th, turning what could have been an inspiring Washington victory into a demoralizing 8-5 loss that represented the District’s latest bullpen implosion.

Beimel, who owns a 9.35 ERA since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago, had pitched a scoreless eighth and nearly escaped the 10th without any damage. But then Adam LaRoche drove a two-out, two-run double to right, and Brandon Moss followed with an RBI single up the middle, completing the rally and sending the Nationals to their sixth straight loss to open an 11-game homestand.

“My job is to come in and get outs, and I just didn’t do it,” said Beimel, just one member of a bullpen that is now 1-14 with a 6.68 ERA. “There’s no excuses. I’ve got to make my pitches, especially there when you’re so close to getting out of it.”

Beimel (0-3) was on the cusp of earning the win thanks to Washington’s rally from an early 5-0 deficit that culminated with the tying run in the ninth.

That last rally was ignited by Nick Johnson, who scorched a one-out triple off the center-field fence, his first three-bagger in four years. Pirates lefty Sean Burnett pitched around Ryan Zimmerman to get a more favorable matchup against Adam Dunn but bounced an 0-1 offering in the dirt that allowed Johnson to score the tying run.

The stage was set for the Nationals to win it right there, but Dunn struck out, and following a walk to Josh Willingham, Willie Harris was caught looking at a 2-2 slider down the middle that sent the game into extra innings.

“We had a chance to win it,” Harris said. “And I screwed it up.”

The rally did get Shairon Martis off the hook for his first loss of the season. No member of Washington’s rotation has benefited more from the improved offensive output this season than Martis, who opened the year 5-0 both because of his effective pitching but also because his teammates scored an average of 6.43 runs in each of his seven previous outings.

So how out of character was it not only for Martis to struggle early against the Pirates lineup but for his teammates to offer little in the way of run support for the rookie right-hander?

Martis got himself into trouble right off the bat. Five batters into the first inning, he had allowed a double and an RBI single, issued a walk, uncorked a wild pitch and served up a two-run double. By the time Andy LaRoche tagged a fat pitch into the left-field bullpen in the third, the Nationals were staring at a 5-0 deficit and their 22-year-old pitcher was staring at his first loss of the season.

Martis, though, knows what his teammates are capable of at the plate and thus refocused on preventing the Pirates from extending the lead.

“After that I just kept thinking I have to keep them right there,” he said. “My team’s going to pick me up.”

The Nationals did pick him up thanks to a three-run rally in the sixth that was jump-started by - of all things - a Zimmerman bunt single. The star third baseman wound up scoring on a hit by Harris, who wound up scoring on a triple by Anderson Hernandez, who wound up scoring on a single by Wil Nieves.

That made it 5-4, and the ninth-inning rally made it 5-5. If only the Nationals were able to get one more hit and pull off an inspiring, game-winning rally instead of merely setting the stage for even bigger disappointment.

“It sucks, man,” Harris said. “The feeling sucks. Nobody in here wants to lose. The feeling, it ain’t good.”

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