NEW YORK, April 22 -- It matters not that the Washington Nationals will miss Pedro Martinez on this, their first trip to New York, as they face the Mets over the weekend. The National League East is littered with prominent pitchers who have shelves at home where they keep their Cy Young awards, not to mention others who appear to be clearing space for such trophies in the future.
So it was Friday night at frigid Shea Stadium, where the ghost of Cy Young past spooked the Nationals, this time in the form of Mets left-hander Tom Glavine. His two Cy Youngs came in 1991 and '98, during his glory days with the Atlanta Braves, and he entered Friday without a win this season. Against the occasionally anemic Nationals, it didn't matter.
Mets' Doug Mientkiewicz is tagged out by Brian Schneider when he tried to score from second on a single.
(Ed Betz -- AP)
Take an accomplished, seasoned pitcher such as Glavine, mix in a complacent and overwhelmed Nationals lineup, and you get something like Friday's 3-1 Mets victory, one in which Glavine yielded just two hits over seven innings before a bundled-up crowd of 28,488 that braced against cold and drizzle but warmly cheered Glavine's performance.
"We don't seem to come to compete until about the sixth or seventh inning of ballgames," Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said. "And that's no matter who's out there on the mound. The way we approached Glavine tonight, we weren't going to do anything to him."
The loss was Washington's fourth in five games, and for the first time since April 12 its players will wake up Saturday morning and find someone else in first place in the National League East. Florida's 4-2 victory over Cincinnati, coupled with the result at Shea, put the Marlins a game ahead of the Nationals.
The standings this early are virtually meaningless. But Robinson is clearly concerned about his team's approach at the plate. In this five-game stretch, the Nationals have scored just 11 runs while hitting .208.
"Say it any way you want to say it," Robinson said. "It comes down to, in baseball terminology, we're not having good at-bats, for one reason or another. We're swinging at pitchers' pitches. We're not swinging at our pitch. We don't work the count. A pitcher gets in a rhythm, we just do nothing to disrupt that rhythm."
The problem, in the NL East, is that there are plenty of pitchers all too capable of getting in such a rhythm, given the opportunity. Look at the names of the pitchers who have started against the Nationals in their eight losses: Florida studs Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett, Atlanta's Mike Hampton and John Smoltz, Philadelphia's Jon Lieber -- off to a 4-0 start -- and, just to even things out, Florida journeyman Brian Moehler. Throw in Glavine's outing Friday -- during which he allowed Jose Guillen's double in the first and Cristian Guzman's homer in the sixth -- and the opposing starters in Washington's losses have combined for a 1.61 ERA.
"It's frustrating," center fielder Brad Wilkerson said. "Against those guys, you need to take advantage of opportunities, and we haven't."
The Nationals loaded the bases with two outs in the first, but Vinny Castilla meekly grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning. That began a string in which Glavine retired 13 of the next 14 hitters, with only one National managing to hit the ball to the outfield. Even the shock of Guzman's first home run of the season leading off the sixth couldn't rattle Glavine, who retired the next six men -- the last he faced -- to preserve the 3-1 lead.
"The bottom line is when Tommy is on and hitting his spots," Mets Manager Willie Randolph said, "he's still one of the top pitchers around."
Friday he hit his spots, surprising hitters with a fastball for strikes inside before reverting to his typical self, living on the outside half of the plate. Therein lies part of Robinson's frustration. "Glavine has pitched the same way for 35 years," he said. Yet the Nationals still tried to pull the ball against him. After Glavine established the fastball inside, he went off-speed for most of his seven strikeouts.
"It seemed like the ball had eyes on it," Nationals left fielder J.J. Davis said. "I would swing, and the ball would tail away and drop."
Still, Esteban Loaiza (0-1) battled enough without his best control that the Nationals had an opportunity in the eighth, after Glavine departed. Reliever Roberto Hernandez hit Tony Blanco with a pitch and Wilkerson doubled to put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. The Nationals, with their typical pluck? Not this time.
"We basically went out there and swung at everything they threw at us," second baseman Jose Vidro said. "We didn't make an approach."
Hernandez came back to get Guzman on a tapper to the catcher, strike out Vidro and get Guillen to pop up to first.
"Get men at second at third, and you don't move anybody?" Robinson said. "That's hard to take."