Nationals' Holiday Letdown
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
The Nationals have thrived on this type of feel-good stage all season: a large home crowd, a day meant for baseball, a close game that came down to the final innings. Many times this season the Nationals have ended such a script with a victory, so their fate against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium yesterday afternoon seemed practically predetermined.
That only made the final innings of the Nationals' 5-2 loss to the Mets more shocking. This time, the Nationals' opponent managed a scrappy, late-inning comeback and a surprise victory. This time, the Nationals unraveled during the game's most crucial moments.
Sun Woo Kim (1-1) gave up three decisive runs in the top of the ninth inning, providing a disappointing ending for the 44,331 fans -- the largest crowd this season -- who flocked to RFK Stadium on the Fourth of July. The loss ended Washington's six-game winning streak and kept the Nationals from climbing 20 games above .500 for the first time this season.
"You can't win every ballgame, even though it might seem like it," said Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, whose team lost for just the fourth time in its past 24 games at home. "Sometimes, you just have to give the other team credit. Sometimes, they make the plays."
The Mets made plenty of them against Kim.
The top of the ninth inning started with a strikeout of David Wright but quickly unraveled. Kim gave up a single to Jose Reyes, who stole second base five pitches later. Jose Offerman, New York's next batter, smacked a hard single to left field, scoring Reyes.
The Mets scored two more runs -- one on a double by Mike Cameron, the other on a single by Carlos Beltran -- before Kim finally trudged back to the dugout to a smattering of boos.
"It was just a couple mistakes, and they had some good hits," said Kim, who also pitched the eighth inning. "When I come to the mound, I don't think about my situation. I just pitched my way, and something bad happened."
With a more rested bullpen, Kim may never have pitched two innings. Playing for the seventh consecutive day, the Nationals entered yesterday's game with a slew of pitchers desperate for rest. After an exhausting, 12-inning win Sunday, Robinson said he felt only two relievers -- Kim and Luis Ayala -- were ready to pitch. He used both of them.
Robinson would have used Chad Cordero to close the game, but the Mets came back from a 2-0 deficit to make sure that never happened.
The Nationals gave starting pitcher John Patterson a little run support on RBI doubles by Junior Spivey (second inning) and Jose Guillen (sixth inning), but Patterson never appeared to be completely in control. In six innings, he allowed only four hits and two runs, but he made a habit of digging his grave and then escaping from it.
Patterson walked Beltran and Cliff Floyd to start the fourth inning then struck out Mike Piazza on a full-count slider. He threw 10 pitches to Reyes in the fifth inning before finally inducing a popup. He came back from a 3-0 count to strike out Cameron to start the sixth.
In the seventh inning, Patterson got into trouble again, but this time Robinson refused to let him attempt escape. After Patterson gave up a single and a double to start the inning, Robinson brought in Ayala.
Ayala limited the damage to two runs, but that was enough to tie the score and set up New York's ninth-inning heroics.
Roberto Hernandez (4-2) got the win for New York by pitching two innings in relief. Mets starter Kaz Ishii was effective for 5 1/3 innings, helping hold the Nationals to five hits.
"I just let them slip away," Patterson said. "I had them backed in a corner. I felt fine. My arm felt good. All of my pitches were there. It's a little frustrating."
Said Robinson: "I stretched [Patterson] out probably beyond what he would have gone. What we used with the bullpen was the bullpen. I was trying to get as far as I could into the seventh inning out of him."