Opportunity Knocks, But Nats Fail to Answer

Troy Glaus, right, is welcomed home by, from left, Shawn Green, Quinton McCracken and Luis Gonzalez after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning as the Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals for the first time this season.
Troy Glaus, right, is welcomed home by, from left, Shawn Green, Quinton McCracken and Luis Gonzalez after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning as the Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals for the first time this season. (By Tom Hood -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

PHOENIX, May 10 -- Forget how many opportunities each team had, because if that's how games were scored, the Washington Nationals would have won easily Tuesday night, and they did not. So many chances. Bases loaded in the fourth, but no runs. Bases loaded in the sixth, but no runs. Bases loaded in the eighth, but not a single, solitary run.

And the Arizona Diamondbacks? Well, they managed three hits all night, an unlikely output against Nationals right-hander Tony Armas Jr., making his 2005 major league debut. But in the sixth, the only opportunity that mattered: Troy Glaus, offered a 3-0 fastball from Armas that he sent high over the left-center field wall for the three-run shot that provided the Diamondbacks with a 3-2 victory.

So the Nationals' 10 hits were wasted, and it comes down to Wednesday's series finale against Arizona to determine whether they can take two of three from each of the three teams they faced on this western trip, the first in their young history.

They won't do it by leaving 13 runners on, as they did Tuesday. Nine of those were in scoring position, and the timely hitting that has defined this trip so far was nowhere to be found. Even with 15 base runners, Brad Wilkerson's two-run double in the fifth was all the offense the Nationals could manage against Arizona left-hander Shawn Estes and three relievers.

Brandon Lyon closed for his league-leading 12th save, striking out Jamey Carroll on a 3-2 fastball with the bases loaded in the eighth, then, with Jose Guillen on second, getting Endy Chavez looking at a low, inside fastball to end it.

"We had a lot of opportunities to put them away," Manager Frank Robinson said, "and have a nice, easy game. But we couldn't get the hit."

No one with the Nationals could reasonably assume Armas (0-1) would be able to pitch even five effective innings. After being shut down late last year -- when he was coming off shoulder surgery -- he had slowly worked his way through spring training, trying to regain his feel, his arm strength, his confidence. When he strained his groin in the first inning of a Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets, he initially thought it was no big deal, but was crushed the following day, March 28, when he was placed on the disabled list.

He made six starts for Class AAA New Orleans, with decidedly mixed results, just a 1-2 record with a 4.38 ERA. So after all that -- this? After walking Craig Counsell to start the game, Armas retired the next 11 Diamondbacks with stunning ease. Glaus broke through with the Diamondbacks' first hit, a two-out double in the fourth, but Armas stranded him there, then worked a 1-2-3 fifth.

"He was great," Robinson said.

Meanwhile, Estes set down the first nine Nationals, which, given Washington's propensity to score runs late, felt normal. Wilkerson broke up the perfect game with a single in the fourth, and the Nationals ended up loading the bases with two outs. But Estes got Jeffrey Hammonds looking at a 1-2 breaking ball, and the threat was over.

The following inning, though, they broke through. Carlos Baerga hit an infield single -- yes, an infield single, one that just eluded the glove of third baseman Glaus. Brian Schneider then doubled to right, putting men at first and third. After Estes struck out Armas, Wilkerson -- who entered the game leading the National League in both doubles and strikeouts -- sent a 3-2 pitch down the right-field line, a double that put the Nationals up, 2-0.

The trouble for Armas, though, finally came in the sixth, starting with a leadoff walk to pinch hitter Quinton McCracken -- "That's the guy I should have gone after," Armas said -- and continuing with a four-pitch walk to Luis Gonzalez with two outs. That brought up Glaus, who had just missed a hanging breaking pitch in the first, flying out, and doubled in the fourth. Armas, suddenly without his control, fell behind 3-0, then grooved a fastball. Glaus had the green light, and swung.

"I was a little surprised," Armas said.

Glaus, already the leading home-run hitter in the National League, had the green light, and deposited the pitch deep onto a walkway beyond the fence in left-center, all the offense the Diamondbacks would need.

The Nationals, who had won five of the first seven games on this trip, had done so in large part with timely hitting. But with the bases loaded in the sixth, Schneider popped to short left field and Armas lined out. With runners on first and second in the seventh, Johnson struck out. With the bases plugged in the eighth, Carroll struck out.

"We just didn't get it done," Robinson said. "Sometimes, you have to give the pitchers credit."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company