Devil Rays Overwhelm The Nationals

Washington reliever Jason Bergmann watches Damon Hollins round the bases after a seventh-inning homer.
Washington reliever Jason Bergmann watches Damon Hollins round the bases after a seventh-inning homer. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 1, 2006

As demoralizing as Thursday night's sweep-concluding loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was, last night's defeat may have been more devastating for the Washington Nationals. At least in the wee hours of Friday morning, when the Nationals' team plane touched down, the promise of a fresh homestand and a last-place opponent awaited.

Sure, the road trip had been horrendous, a miasma of bad pitching and feeble hitting that produced one win in nine games. But at least there was hope.

Today, when the Nationals wake up sore from the 11-1 pounding they received from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night, their most lopsided loss this season, the trip to the ballpark will offer very little reason for optimism. The Devil Rays ensured that by drilling five home runs and 17 hits, while Tim Corcoran held the Nationals to three hits -- one a bunt -- and no runs in seven innings.

Losers of nine of their past 10 games, 15 games under .500 for the first time this season, the Nationals are long on bad baseball and short on hope.

"This is the worst it's been since I've been here," second baseman Jose Vidro said. "The way we're going, it's no fun at all. Teams are having their way with us. The guys are trying too hard, and frustration takes over."

In an effort to snap that frustration, Nationals Manager Frank Robinson told his team to show up later than usual for tonight's game. Washington seemed listless at times last night, accepting of the reality of another loss.

"I don't know if it's effort or lack of effort or what," Robinson said. "Tonight was not a good ballgame. When you're down 9-0 or whatever, there's not much to expect. It's hard to look good when you're getting beat up like that.

"It's not a low point. The low point is the way we're playing right now. We're not competing. We're not giving ourselves a chance to win ballgames."

The competitive phase of last night's game ended with two outs in Tampa Bay's half of the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford slammed a hanging breaking ball from Jason Bergmann into the Washington bullpen for his second two-run homer of the night. Tampa Bay led 7-0.

"Once we got down, there definitely wasn't a lot of energy," shortstop Royce Clayton said.

Crawford hit his first home run in the third off starter Mike O'Connor, putting Tampa up 3-0. Rocco Baldelli struck next, in the fifth, jacking an O'Connor breaking ball to dead center, just to the left of the 410-foot marker. O'Connor exited after that inning, having allowed five runs on eight hits.

"They didn't throw good pitches," Robinson said. "The home runs were there to be hit. And they hit them."

If O'Connor had dug a hole, Bergmann rode in from the bullpen on an excavator. He faced 15 batters and gave up nine hits -- three of them home runs -- and six runs. At one point, Robinson went to the mound not to pull Bergmann, but to speak with him, a job normally reserved for pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

"I just thought he lost his focus," Robinson said. "He became a thrower, not a pitcher."

Crawford hit the first homer off Bergmann, the blast to left that put Tampa Bay up 7-0. Baldelli followed by ripping a single to left, which brought Jorge Cantu to the plate. He took his turn in the long ball procession and blasted one to center. As the ball soared over the fence, the 21,854 in attendance hurled boos toward the diamond.

An inning later, Damon Hollins led off and pounded a 1-2 fastball to left for the fifth home run of the night. The balls had mercifully stopped leaving the yard, but the fans began their exodus.

Sitting in the dugout, Robinson likely wished himself among those escaping. Despite his displeasure, Robinson won't surrender the season just yet. He is a manager that, somehow, is holding out any hope he can.

"You're never out of ideas," Robinson said. "If I say I'm out of ideas, I feel like I'm saying I give up. I keep trying to figure out what I can do, what it is, because that's what I expect of them. Just keeping thinking and thinking and hope that tomorrow will be the day it clicks."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company