Patchwork Nats Are Good Enough
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
NEW YORK, Sept. 13 -- Prior to Tuesday night, Hector Carrasco had appeared in 557 major league games and started just one of them. Yet when the Washington Nationals took the field at Shea Stadium, there was Carrasco on the mound, throwing the first pitch. Prior to Tuesday, Carrasco had pitched in 59 games for the Nationals this season and come to the plate just once. Yet there he was Tuesday night, laying down a bunt in one plate appearance, bursting down the line after hitting a grounder his next time up.
The Nationals' season has taken on a piecemeal feel of late, and it was never more apparent than on a hum-drum Tuesday in Flushing. Carrasco didn't find out until 2:30 p.m., when he was already on his way to the stadium, that he would make the second start of his career, taking the place of ailing John Patterson. His response?
"I started laughing," he said.
By the end of the night, he was still laughing. Carrasco lasted a season-high four innings, and spurred the Nationals -- who highlighted their bullpen, yet again, out of necessity -- to a 4-2 victory in which he and four relievers held the slumping New York Mets to five hits. The Nationals relievers have now been called on to piece together four starts. Finally, they got it right, in part because Manager Frank Robinson went with the veterans, not rookies such as Darrell Rasner or Jason Bergmann.
"That's who we are," said lefty Joey Eischen, who pitched a third of an inning. "If our starters ever had a problem, they all know we're all ready. We'll all take the ball. Whether we feel good or not. . . . We want to pitch, we want to pick each other up. It's kind of like a little platoon down there."
Along the way, the Nationals scored three in the third off Mets starter Tom Glavine, whom they beat for the first time this season. Robinson, infuriated about a missed check swing call on the Mets' Victor Diaz, was ejected by home plate umpire Jeff Nelson and then engaged in a prolonged, heated exchange with crew chief Joe Brinkman. And Chad Cordero rebounded from what appeared to be the low point of his season, Sunday's 9-7 loss to Atlanta in which he gave up back-to-back homers to Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, by recording his 45th save.
So the Nationals began a six-game road trip in the right manner, and remained four games back of the Florida Marlins in the race for the National League's wild-card playoff berth.
"We struggled through it," Robinson said, which is an apt description of this entire second half of the season. After Esteban Loaiza, Livan Hernandez and Patterson make the next three starts for Washington, the bullpen will have to piece another one of these efforts together on Saturday in San Diego. Injuries to starters Ryan Drese and Tony Armas have put them in this predicament, but it's one the relievers -- who it affects the most -- generally shrug off. Carrasco, fresh off the second-longest outing of his career, smiled and said, "Tomorrow, I'm back in the bullpen."
"He's serious," Eischen said. "That's the way we all are."
Knowing this, Robinson pushed his luck with Carrasco. With two outs in the top of the fourth, he let the 35-year-old hit. He had already laid down a successful sacrifice bunt in the third, one Mets first baseman Mike Jacobs misplayed by throwing to third base, a key play in the inning that featured RBI singles from Brad Wilkerson, Marlon Byrd and Preston Wilson.
But here, with two outs and nobody on, Carrasco all but threw his bat at a pitch from Glavine and sprinted to first. When he arrived, he was out, and he was also, as he said, "out of gas."
Robinson, though, sent him back out to pitch the fourth. "It's one of those things," Robinson said. "You look for two [innings] out of him. He gives you two, he's capable of going three. He gets three, so let's see what he can do. See if you can get one more out of him."
It almost didn't work. Marlon Anderson hit Carrasco's second pitch of the fourth into the right field bullpen, a solo shot that made it 3-2. But he survived, handing the game off to Jon Rauch, who gave it to Eischen, who turned it over to Gary Majewski for the seventh and eighth.
Majewski made it through an interesting seventh, in which he walked the leadoff man, pinch hitter Jose Offerman, and appeared to give up a one-out single to Kazuo Matsui, who hit a shot back up the middle. Offerman, apparently, thought Majewski had snared the ball and retreated to first. Problem: The ball was in center field and Offerman was retired when Wilson, the center fielder, tossed the ball to second for a strange forceout.
Majewski then worked out of a first-and-second jam in the eighth, getting Chris Woodward -- who drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Nationals on Aug. 20 -- to bounce into an inning-ending double play. The Nationals managed an insurance run in the top of the ninth on an absurd error from Mets catcher Ramon Castro, who tossed Cristian Guzman's sacrifice bunt into left field.
And that left it to Cordero, a young man in need of redemption.
"He has that mentality," Robinson said. "You have to have a short memory as a closer."
Cordero survived in fine style with a perfect ninth, and the Nationals' patchwork approach to pitching finally worked.