Nats Stumble in 8th, Lose to Cubs

Nick Johnson
Despite this single from Nick Johnson, the Nationals struggle to generate much offense and lose 6-3 to the Cubs. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005

Before last night's series opener between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs at RFK Stadium, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, a former Negro league star, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Actually, Radcliffe, who turns 103 in June, dropped a baseball into Nationals first base coach Don Buford's glove while sitting in a wheelchair near home plate.

Not even Radcliffe was born when the Cubs last played in the nation's capital, believed to be sometime during the 1899 season. So more than a century later -- and nearly 97 years since their last World Series championship in 1908 -- the Cubs played in RFK Stadium for the first time, beating the Nationals, 6-3, in front of a crowd of 36,585.

The Cubs (16-18), who are seemingly headed toward another summer of discontent after injuries to star pitcher Kerry Wood and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, won for only the fourth time in their last 12 games. The Nationals (18-17) lost for the fourth time in five games -- they dropped consecutive 3-2 defeats at Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday, spoiling what had been a promising West Coast road trip.

Last night's loss was hardly a game for the ages, although the Nationals loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth against the Cubs' self-imploding bullpen. With two outs, Jose Guillen came to the plate as the winning run and hit a high fly ball that was caught by Jeromy Burnitz at the warning track in the right field corner.

"We just don't seem to be able to win these games right now," Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said. "We have to stop this little slide of playing this way. If you're going to get beat, make the other team beat you. We're not doing that. We're helping the other team."

If not for their sloppy play in the eighth inning, the Nationals wouldn't have needed a homer from Guillen to win the game. But with the score tied at 2, the Nationals transformed the contest into a comedy of errors. The Cubs' Aramis Ramirez led off the eighth with a towering solo homer to center, giving his team a 3-2 lead. After Burnitz doubled to left-center field, Michael Barrett sacrificed him to third with a bunt back to the mound.

When reliever Luis Ayala hit Jason Dubois with a full-count pitch to put runners on the corners with one out, Robinson pulled him and put closer Chad Cordero into the game. On Cordero's second pitch, Jerry Hairston failed to make contact on a safety squeeze bunt, and Nationals catcher Gary Bennett threw to third and caught Burnitz off the base. But Bennett dropped Vinny Castilla's throw back to the plate and Burnitz scored to make it 4-2.

"That play at the plate is inexcusable," Robinson said. "When the play is in front of you like that, you've got to make the play."

Said Bennett: "I just missed it. There's no other way to put it. It cost us big-time."

After Bennett's miscue, Cordero walked Hairston and struck out pinch hitter Todd Hollandsworth for the second out. But then Corey Patterson hit a slow grounder between the mound and first base. Cordero tried to field the grounder and scoop a throw to first base with his glove. But his throw sailed over first baseman Nick Johnson's head, allowing Dubois to score from second and Hairston from first, giving the Cubs a 6-2 lead.

"It was all my fault," Cordero said. "When I looked up, I thought I saw somebody at the bag. It was almost like a blind toss."

The Nationals squandered another solid effort from starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who yielded six hits and two earned runs in seven innings. It was the fourth time this season Loaiza has pitched at least seven innings and taken a loss or no-decision. Cubs reliever Will Ohman, who didn't allow a base runner in the seventh, got his first victory and Todd Wellemeyer got his first save.

The Nationals left two runners on base when Carlos Baerga bounced into a double play to end the sixth, and they blew a great opportunity in the second when Henry Mateo failed to bunt and Johnson was caught in a rundown.

"We're just in a rut of making plays like that and it's costing us ballgames," Robinson said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company