Soriano All Square On Offense

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006

BALTIMORE, June 25 -- Marlon Byrd stood on second base with no one out, ripe to be driven in. At the plate stood one of the best players in the league, so it came as a shock to Washington's dugout when Alfonso Soriano -- the Nationals' best hitter, their highest-paid player -- squared to bunt.

Soriano had decided to sacrifice on his own volition, not because of any sign from third base coach Anthony Beasley. Soriano pushed the ball between the pitcher and third baseman, a perfect spot. Soriano ended up in the dugout, but Byrd landed on third, and Soriano, masher of 24 home runs this season, had ignited a two-run third inning with the meekest play in baseball.

"I am struggling at the plate so we have a little problem scoring some runs," Soriano said. "I think it's a good opportunity for me to bunt, put the run in scoring position for [Jose] Vidro. That's a smart play."

When Soriano returned to the dugout, high-fives and fist pounds awaited. Everyone knew Soriano had given himself up on his own, and they showed their appreciation.

"It was big," Byrd said. "It surprised everybody, woke everybody up. It got everyone going. He hasn't been swinging the bat well lately, so he took that chance, tried to get the ball down and get a run scored. For a superstar on this team, a superstar in this league, to do that, it's huge."

Part of Soriano's rationale, of course, is that he hasn't been hitting like a superstar lately. Entering the game, Soriano was 8 for 51 in the Nats' last 12 games, 10 of which Washington lost. He went hitless again yesterday, but his bunt provided a spark for an offense in dire need of one.

"We wound up getting two runs out of that," Manager Frank Robinson said. "To me, that was important. I think that got the bench up and the fans up more than anything else, him willing to do that. That's what it takes, doing the little things. It kind of set the tone for the day."

Byrd Breaks Out

Byrd snapped out of a 6-for-29 slump by going 3 for 5 with two RBI and two runs scored, including a solo home run and a double. "I've been working my butt off," Byrd said. "I hadn't been helping the team score runs. It helps to feel good at the plate, finally." . . .

Royce Clayton continued pogo-sticking in the lineup, batting seventh a day after batting third. He responded with the biggest hit of the game, a three-run double in the fifth. "Whatever situation arises, you have to take advantage of it and do your job," Clayton said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company