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Mike Wise

Same as It Ever Was

By Mike Wise
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page D09

PHILADELPHIA -- Well, miracle of miracles, Washington's baseball team lost another game. The Washington Nine has now lost eight of its past 10 Opening Days.

Colleagues correctly point out that Terrmel Sledge was one swing away from carrying the Nationals to one of the most rousing victories in this franchise's history (being that this was the first game in this franchise's history). Yet after "the Hammer" grounded into an inning-ending double play to end the seventh, that's like saying Bob E. Lee narrowly lost Richmond.

Manager Frank Robinson was excited about his team's offense, and perhaps we should all we thankful for the small things after another Nationals loss. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Some things never change, no? Like, we lose in baseball.

Washington has now lost three straight, six of seven, and has not won since Sept. 28, 1971. We have not won since Joe Grzenda pitched three innings of one-hit relief as the Senators pounded out 10 hits to beat Stan Bahnsen and the Yankees, 4-2.

We have not met Grzenda. But Livan Hernandez, you're no Joe Grzenda.

Hernandez, our ace, gave up eight hits and seven runs. One of Livan's pitches was sent 352 feet down the right field line by Kenny Lofton, who will be 38 in May and has yet to be connected to BALCO.

Unless the Nationals triumph in their own Opening Day on April 14 at RFK (taking into account spring training, Sunday at RFK and today, the Nationals now have more opening days than middle relievers), Washington will still have not won anything significant on the diamond since 1924.

(You're saying to yourself: "Thirty-four years after the Senators left, you don't even have the decency to give the Nationals their due for hanging in a game in which they were getting shelled. Why don't you write about that rejuvenated offense, or about all those people who took the bus ride to Philadelphia, who chanted "Let's Go Nats"? This is proceeding like another leftist, anti-baseball rant, isn't it?")

No, that would be knee-jerk and unkind on this most historic day. For the past six months, we've been hearing about nothing else but Washington's baseball nostalgia. So let's continue with that theme:

First pitch: 3:07.

First Nationals error: 3:22. (Catcher Brian Schneider overthrew second base in the first inning).

First National miffed at the media: Ryan Church, 7:15.

Actually, Church, a good guy, had a legitimate beef and was more playfully cranky than anything. The poor kid could not get to his locker. He was overrun by humans carrying cameras, notebooks and micro-cassette recorders -- people who passed on the Dubai assignment to truly record the defining moment of our times.

"In Montreal, we had two people," Church said. "One French guy and one English-speaking guy. People coming out to cover us? Wow. It's a good problem."

But the media guide does not lie. We lose pennants. The last time a Washington team even finished first in its division was '33, which was merely two years before Frank Robinson was born! The last time we finished with a winning record was '69, also a very different era.

For one, Richard Nixon, who threw out the first pitch that year, had not yet thrown his political career away. Ted Williams, the Senators manager, had not yet been eternally freeze-dried. Mayor Anthony Williams, who proudly wore his red "W" cap yesterday, had not yet sold the District down the Anacostia River.

(What a seminal moment in Washington sports history, all those politicians seeing their conniving come through. Jack Evans, (D-Ward 2), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) and Tony Williams (Sellout, D.C.) were all in attendance, along with Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey and board member Bill Hall. They all mean well.)

And for what? After the pageantry and the popcorn, the Nationals are toast.

Or are they?

Robinson was very excited about the Nationals' bats making contact with the ball. During the spring, many of his players did not know this is what bats are made for, hitting. But against the Phillies, the Nationals pounded out 13 hits. They got good wood, as they say here at the ballpark. The bullpen was not roughed up and should be okay for the second game of the season here on Wednesday.

Maybe Sledge gets a clutch hit. Maybe Nationals pitchers get the run support they need. Maybe a Washington baseball franchise can finally get a win and stop the six-of-seven, 34-year slide.

Or maybe it's time for Washingtonians to forget about the past and look at this Opening Day as a precursor for new heirlooms to come. Maybe, instead of trying to write a new ending to an old baseball history, we should look at it as a first date, an imperfect keepsake all its own.

But if we go to 0-2, someone needs to call up Joe Grzenda.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company