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Fifth-Inning Meltdown Dooms the Nationals

Mets 10, Nationals 5

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page E01

NEW YORK, April 23 -- The blooper reel fodder was all there, packaged neatly in a miserable fifth inning. Jose Vidro, drifting back under a popup, misreading the wind as the ball fell for a double. Brad Wilkerson, breaking back on a ball hit to center, then racing in, watching it fall in for a single. Carlos Baerga, set to field an easy grounder at third base, watching it scoot between his legs. Tony Blanco, roaming left field, trying to cut to his right to field a line drive, instead slipping on the Shea Stadium turf, eliciting laughter from the stands.

That's just a sampling, really, for it ignores the fact that the Washington Nationals were shut down by a pitcher who had, prior to Saturday, posted an 8.22 ERA -- in Class AAA. The Nationals offered up a platterful of blunders in their lifeless 10-5 loss to the New York Mets Saturday afternoon, a decision that ushered in their first three-game losing streak.

Washington's J.J. Davis breaks his bat on an RBI single during the 7th inning in New York. The Nationals have lost 3 games in a row and 5 of their last 6. (Chad Rachman -- AP)

_____Mets Basics_____
Mets page

"It's the same problems," Manager Frank Robinson said.

If there was any doubt that the Nationals were in the midst of their first week of bad baseball, there isn't now. They announced their struggles to the Big Apple in bold, flashing neon letters Saturday. Washington, which spent its entire first homestand atop the National League East, lost for the fifth time in six games, fell to .500 for the first time since April 12, and looked a bit like a team on an early-season precipice.

"It's early," Wilkerson said. "But still, it seemed like we kind of gave this game away.

"We didn't swing the bats well, didn't play good defense, and certainly didn't pitch well."

The mantra, afterward, was to stay positive. "We can't panic," catcher Brian Schneider said. "It's too early for that."

But there were signs of concern even early Saturday, beginning on a rainy Queens morning. Roughly 90 minutes before game time, Robinson called all of his position players into the tight quarters of the visiting manager's office to talk about his worries, namely, their approach to hitting and the quality of their at-bats.

"I just told them we have to figure out how to try to get something going," Robinson said.

Two veterans -- Vidro and Jose Guillen -- spoke up, Robinson said. And the Nationals went to take out their frustrations on Mets right-hander Jae Seo -- recalled Friday from Class AAA Norfolk to replace the injured Kaz Ishii. In three starts there, Seo had allowed 14 earned runs in 22 1/3 innings. The game plan was simple: Meet about improving the approach, and then attack Seo, who would appear to be there for the taking.

"It didn't do any good," Robinson said of the meeting.

Robinson has been so frustrated -- the Nationals had scored just seven runs in their last four games -- that he shook up the lineup, giving Baerga and Blanco their first starts.

"It's just one of those things where, what can they do?" Robinson said prior to the game.

"Can it be any worse than what's been going on?"

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