After Long Climb, Nats Fall

Washington's Livan Hernandez lasts just two innings but gives up eight runs as the Nationals fall to the New York Mets on Saturday night, 9-8, in 10 innings. (Julie Jacobson - AP)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 21, 2005

NEW YORK, Aug. 20 -- On a night when they looked as if they would be embarrassed by Livan Hernandez's horrendous start, the Washington Nationals did all the hard work, storming back from an eight-run deficit. They started inserting reserves by the bundle, men named Blanco and Baerga, Carroll and Church, and when Brian Schneider hit a two-out, two-run double in the top of the ninth and the last bit of the New York Mets' lead had been chipped away, the Nationals started to get that old feeling again.

"Everybody seemed like they thought we could do this," reliever John Halama said.

They could have, but they didn't. Pinch hitter Chris Woodward's ground ball single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning saved the Mets from humiliation Saturday night, delivering a 9-8 victory, leaving Washington reliever Gary Majewski crumpled on the mound in defeat.

How to take this one? It comes at a crucial part of the year, near the end of a staggering 13-game road trip, and cost the Nationals dearly in the standings. But Manager Frank Robinson, never afraid to be critical of his team, couldn't be Saturday, particularly considering how subs Ryan Church, Jamey Carroll and Carlos Baerga had all helped teach the regulars how to keep at it.

"It's not painful to lose that game right there," Robinson said. "We fought back, and I am very proud of the players out there. Church and Carroll, Baerga, the relief pitchers. They did a tremendous job out there. . . . We had our chances to win it."

Yet the playoff picture isn't pretty. With 39 games to go, the Nationals are surrounded by contenders. They now trail Philadelphia by 1 1/2 games, Houston by a game, and Florida by half a game. The Mets, meanwhile, trail Washington by just a half-game.

It is a dire situation. They have now lost three of four series on this road trip at a time when they badly need to make up ground. Yet the vibe in the clubhouse wasn't of a devastated club.

"You can't count a loss as a positive, obviously, this late in the season," Schneider said. "But I think it showed a lot about our team."

It may have showed something about the Mets, too, for their bullpen was horrendous. Pedro Martinez, their ace, cruised through six innings, allowing six hits, and was never really threatened. His counterpart, Hernandez, the Nationals' supposed ace, couldn't match him at all. He allowed a three-run homer to Ramon Castro in the second, a two-run shot to Jose Reyes in the same inning and then a three-run blast to David Wright in the third.

That was it. Hernandez failed to record an out in the third, his shortest outing since July 7, 2004, when he lasted two innings against the Atlanta Braves. Only one of his 275 career starts has been shorter. Only three times has he given up as many earned runs, the last being April 7, 2001, when the Los Angeles Dodgers tagged him for eight. His ERA jumped from 3.45 to 3.80.

"It was tough," Hernandez said.

Indeed it was. But Halama, making just his second appearance for Washington, chipped in with four scoreless innings, keeping the lead at 8-0. And in the bottom of the sixth, Mets Manager Willie Randolph pinch-hit for Martinez, who had thrown just 78 pitches.

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