Rivalry That Starts With A Thud Ends in a Whimper

livan hernandez - washington nationals
"You believe it or not, (but) I go to the movies last night -- 1 o' clock in the morning, 12:15," said Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez, who beat the Orioles for his first win in four starts. (Chris Gardner - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006

BALTIMORE, June 25 -- In the sixth and final game of the year between the neighboring teams, there finally was a moment to think a rivalry was blossoming, a few minutes of excitement to temper the indifference that had seemed to overtake both sides. Baltimore Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, the 6-foot-7 giant, threw a 98-mph fastball in the first inning off the inside corner that sent husky Washington Nationals designated hitter Daryle Ward scurrying. The ball barely missed Ward. Moments later, though, Cabrera sent another fastball, again 98 mph, that plunked Ward in the upper back. Ward bent down for a moment in pain and then started to walk up the line to first base.

Ward never took his eyes off Cabrera as he walked to first base, and Cabrera simply stared back, eyes piercing and jaw clenched. Finally, some emotion.

It would be several innings before it became apparent that it was not venom or a rivalry that inspired Cabrera's pitch to Ward's back. It was wildness. A wildness that could not be tamed, making the final game played between the teams, a 9-5 Nationals win, a simple mismatch, tedious to watch.

"It was coming directly at me, and I had nowhere to go," said Ward, who had two hits and two RBI. "You only got that split second when he's throwing that hard. It hit me in a good spot. I just told him, 'Man, just get it down.' I don't mind getting hit, but get it down some. That's a career-threatening area. . . . It's not a problem. I'm not a guy that gets upset and charges the mound unless I know that the guy's throwing at my head."

The so-called rivalry ended in a thud. The teams appear to be evenly matched and split the six games. Each team won its home series. Perhaps the only memorable aspect of the games was that neither team showed much passion about playing the other.

"The first night or the second [in Washington] there might have been a little excitement," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said of the matchup, "but in the rest we were just playing out the schedule."

It might have been prudent for Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez to plunk an Oriole, but would an 84-mph fastball in the back be retribution? Would a 62-mph curveball to the thigh make any kind of point? Perhaps not, so Hernandez simply pitched to the plate and was successful, beating the Orioles for the second time this season. Cabrera, though, found it hard to find the plate at all. Cabrera walked five in 4 2/3 innings, threw a painful 106 pitches and uncorked four wild pitches, which set a team record.

"Those are nasty breaking balls that are 55 feet," Perlozzo said. "That's tough for anybody to catch, I don't care who it is."

Cabrera was just one wild pitch shy of the American League record. Cabrera, likely upset at his performance, left the clubhouse without speaking to the media.

"When he gets wild, he's hard to catch," Orioles catcher Javy Lopez said. "He tried so hard to spot the ball so much, that's why he got a little bit out of control."

Meantime, Hernandez allowed just three runs in six innings, mostly utilizing a fastball that hardly topped 84-mph and a breaking ball that went as low as 61 mph. Royce Clayton, Washington's shortstop, had three hits and three RBI, including the knockout blow for Cabrera, a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning that made the score 6-1.

It's unlikely anyone will remember much of this game. Perhaps the most exciting moment for the 27,680 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards had been when the two mascots, The Bird and Screech, opposed each other in a dance contest. For the record, that one also ended in a tie.

"It didn't do anything special for me," Washington Manager Frank Robinson said of the series. "It depends on how the two teams are going. That's where the interest is. If the two teams start playing very well and creating fan interest and media interest, that's when you'll see an excitement about the teams playing each other. Until then, we're just going from house to house. The fans can have bragging rights if your team wins. If you split, it's like kissing your cousin. Maybe we ought to develop a trophy."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company