- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

NEW YORK — Carlos Beltran had taken Nationals’ left-hander Tom Gorzelanny deep twice already when he stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth, but it was his routine fly ball that stayed in the park that did the most damage Saturday night.

Jerry Hairston Jr. was camped out under Beltran’s offering at a 1-1 slider from Gorzelanny and was in position to make the first out of the inning when the ball lipped off the veteran’s glove as he jerked back at the last second. The result was a decisive three-run inning in the Nationals 8-4 loss to the Mets.

“I just missed it, flat out,” Hairston said. “I put us behind the eight-ball tonight and I really feel responsible for the loss. Not to take anything away from the Mets, the Mets played well but I put us behind the eight-ball and feel responsible.”

Hairston felt that center fielder Rick Ankiel, who wasn’t particularly close to the play, may have been coming over to make the catch, resulting in his last second reaction to pull back.

“Really, that’s not really an excuse,” he said. “The one thing about me as I pride myself that wherever I’m at I make the plays, period. I messed up and it hurts a little bit, but the good thing about it and what separates major leaguers is you’ve got to bounce back. I’ve done it throughout my career and I intend to do that.”

The play, which put Beltran on second base and turned him into the game-winning run two batters later when Ike Davis cleared both Beltran and David Wright from the bases with a triple, was the detrimental error of the night for the Nationals who were plagued once again by one regretful moment — just as they were in several of their first four losses of the season.

On Tuesday night in Florida it was Jayson Werth’s drop of a pop up in shallow right and third base coach Bo Porter’s errant call to wave Hairston home. In last Sunday’s finale with the Braves, it was a host of sloppy plays that broke open the game. Saturday it was Hairston’s error.

“It’s tough,” said an empathetic Michael Morse, the Nationals normal left fielder who was playing first base with Adam LaRoche off for the day. “Especially going in that gap. The park has real big gaps and it was a tough play and it happens. It happens to the best of players.”

Not only did it lead the Mets to victory and an opportunity to take the series in Sunday’s finale, it also ruined what, outside of the two home runs allowed to Beltran, had been an impressive Nationals debut for Tom Gorzelanny after a 15-day layoff between live game action.

The only other baserunners Gorzelanny allowed before Beltran’s ball dropped in in the sixth, came via two walks and a hit batter. Everyone else was kept off the base paths — eight of them set down by strikeout, including Hairston’s brother Scott, immediately after the left fielder’s error — but Gorzelanny, and the Nationals, still went home empty-handed.

And while Hairston’s error was the defining moment upon which the game turned, the Nationals once again wasted chances to take control of the game long before Beltran’s third ball took flight. Second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond each hit their first home runs of the season, Espinosa’s a three-run shot in the second inning and Desmond’s a solo version in the fifth.

That was all the offense the Nationals could muster, despite pounding out seven hits on Mets starter Chris Capuano and putting 11 runners on base. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Espinosa’s strike the only successful chance, left the bases loaded in the third inning and stranded two runners in each of the fifth, seventh and ninth innings.

“We had some opportunities early to add on to what early lead we had,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “Concern is not a word for me (about stranding runners). I just know that we’re going to score runs and we’re going to get them in if we keep putting them on there. I’m encouraged by us getting them on there.”

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