Nats Hit a Big Bump on Road

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif., June 13 -- So much had gone so right for so long, it had to end. And maybe -- with all the one-run victories and friendly vibes from the new home crowds -- when it ended, it made sense it wouldn't just peter out, but would rather come crashing down. Yes, the Washington Nationals have accomplished much. But there is much, much more to go.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim not only halted the Nationals' 10-game winning streak with Monday night's 11-1 blowout, but they did it behind former Montreal Expos star Vladimir Guerrero's 4-for-4, five-RBI effort, a bit of a reminder that regardless of how good things are in Washington, the fans of Montreal were routinely treated to a nightly display of hitting supremacy that is rare. And they did it by attacking the hallmark of the Nationals' success -- the starting pitching.

Esteban Loaiza, who Manager Frank Robinson said he felt bad for because the Nationals hadn't supported him with more offense, had his worst outing of the season, lasting until he had faced three batters in the fourth inning, allowing nine hits and five runs. The Angels -- perhaps as a reminder that they, too, are a first-place club -- scored five times in the fourth off Loaiza and Sun Woo Kim. They ripped out 20 hits, more than they had collected this season, more than the Nationals had allowed all year, and threw a Pacific-sized wave on the hottest team in baseball.

"We did a lousy job of pitching to him," Robinson said of Guerrero, "and a few of their other hitters."

Thus, the Nationals' nine-game road trip began with their shakiest performance in the previously blissful month of June. The good feelings actually ended in the first, when Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen -- the erstwhile Angel -- came to the plate to resounding boos from the 40,790 at Angel Stadium. Guillen, infamously, was traded from Anaheim to Washington in the offseason at least in part because he had an altercation with Manager Mike Scioscia and was suspended during the heat of a pennant race.

The crowd, clearly, remembered the incident more than they did Guillen's one season in Anaheim, when he hit .294 with 27 homers and 104 RBI. There were loud cheers when Guillen struck out in the first and eighth and flew out with runners on second and third to end the third. He was even booed when he hit an RBI single, scoring the Nationals' only run. To rub it in a bit more, Juan Rivera -- who was traded, along with shortstop Maicer Izturis, for Guillen in November -- homered in the eighth.

"I don't think they should boo me," Guillen said. "I didn't do anything to the fans here."

He added, though, that it wasn't a significant concern. What is more important is that the Nationals now lead the National League East by only a game over the idle Philadelphia Phillies. That they lost wasn't a terrific surprise, given that the Angels entered the game leading the American League West and are armed with one of the most potent lineups in baseball, led by Guerrero but featuring dangerous veterans such as Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson and Steve Finley.

Still, the manner of the loss was striking. Nothing had been more astounding or essential to Washington's 12-1 homestand than the success of the starting rotation, which went 6-0 with a 2.02 ERA during that stretch. They entered Monday's game on a streak of 16 straight games in which their starters had yielded no more than three runs.

"I wanted to go out and win," Loaiza said.

There was, though, a problem. Loaiza said he had been bothered by a stiff neck and back for the past few days, a situation exacerbated by the long plane ride Sunday night. He said he couldn't get comfortable, and it showed from the start. He allowed Guerrero's RBI single and Finley's run-scoring double in the first to put the Nationals in a 2-0 hole. He then escaped further harm in the second when left fielder Ryan Church gunned down Adam Kennedy at the plate to end the inning following another Guerrero single.

And in the fourth, Dallas McPherson led off with a towering homer to center, Orlando Cabrera and Kennedy followed with singles, and that was it for Loaiza. The last time he had a start that short was last Aug. 21 when he was pitching for the New York Yankees against these same Angels.

"I just didn't have my good stuff," Loaiza said.

Kim relieved with the Nationals still in the game, trailing just 3-0, and leadoff man Chone Figgins content to bunt men to second and third. Figgins, though, couldn't get the bunt down. So instead, with a full count, he ripped a triple that pushed the lead to 5-0, closed the book on Loaiza, and essentially ended the Nationals' winning streak.

When Guerrero came up in the sixth, the Angels already had a 7-1 lead. Not enough, apparently. Guerrero took T.J. Tucker deep to left field, a three-run homer that was his eighth of the season. After that, he came out of the game, a full night's work against his former team completed.

"Just walk him," Guillen said of his former Anaheim teammate. "That's the best way. He's amazing. If he's not in the top two [players], he's right there."

The Nationals would very much like to remain right there, among the top teams in the National League. To do so in the immediate future, they must deal for two more days with the Angels -- and with Guerrero.

"We'll be back tomorrow," Robinson said. "It's not the end of the world."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company