Rockies Finish Fast vs. Nationals

Colorado's Clint Barmes scored on a single by Choo Freeman in the sixth inning. The Rockies went up 6-1 in the inning.
Colorado's Clint Barmes scored on a single by Choo Freeman in the sixth inning. The Rockies went up 6-1 in the inning. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Several hours before his Washington Nationals hosted the Colorado Rockies last night at RFK Stadium, Manager Frank Robinson leaned back in a chair and explained why his club could shrug off the events of the previous night, when the Nationals lost by a run.

"You can't get down just because you lose a ballgame," Robinson said. "You get down when you don't play good baseball."

The Nationals, then, may awaken this morning just a tad perturbed, because they didn't play anything resembling good baseball over the ensuing evening. They stranded runners by the car-load early, gave up runs by the bushel late, and suffered through a 9-2 loss in front of an announced crowd of 21,689 that was their worst performance in two weeks, not to mention by far the worst outing in the young career of rookie left-hander Mike O'Connor.

The result, in which O'Connor yielded a season-high six runs, gave the Nationals back-to-back losses for the first time this month, and they now must beat the Rockies today and tomorrow in order to avoid losing a series at RFK for the first time since May 4, when the Florida Marlins completed a two-game sweep here.

Dissecting this one wasn't difficult.

"Our offense was terrible," Robinson said, "and the pitching wasn't very good."

The first part of that equation is fairly simple, for the Nationals left 11 runners on base and managed just two hits in 13 at-bats with men in scoring position. Most of those opportunities came in the first six innings against eminently beatable right-hander Josh Fogg, who entered the game with one win in his last 10 starts and a 5.21 ERA, yet held the Nationals to a single run over six innings.

Take a look at the totals, and this would seem as if it should have been a tight affair. Each team had five doubles. Colorado had 12 hits, just two more than the Nationals, but Washington actually had 16 base runners to 14 for the Rockies. Yet the Rockies were five for 10 with runners in scoring position.

"Early in the ballgame, we had a chance to do some damage," Robinson said. "Couldn't get it done. We couldn't put any runs on the board, and we wound up with what? Two hits less than they did? And we had how many runs? Two. And they put nine on the board." He paused. "They hit with men on base."

In the first five innings, the Nationals left five men in scoring position and failed to plate even a run when they had the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, because Marlon Byrd bounced into a forceout at the plate, and O'Connor tapped out to Fogg to end the inning. There was, almost instantly, a growing sense of opportunity lost, "especially early in the game," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

"It's not easy to do," he continued. "We can't drive them in every time. It's not like the people up there aren't trying to drive them in. The pitcher wins sometimes, too."

The second half of the formula was more surprising, because O'Connor sailed through the first five innings, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced, apparently headed for yet another fine start that would extend a tale of unexpected success. Prior to last night, the 25-year-old from George Washington University hadn't allowed more than three earned runs in any start, keeping the Nationals in game after game.

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