Bush Can't Provide Power for Nationals

San Diego's Mark Bellhorn can't reach this single by the Nats' Royce Clayton, who had two hits and an RBI. President Bush and his wife attended the game.
San Diego's Mark Bellhorn can't reach this single by the Nats' Royce Clayton, who had two hits and an RBI. President Bush and his wife attended the game. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

The former owner of the Texas Rangers came out to RFK Stadium last night to sit with his wife, Laura, watch a little baseball and, hopefully, see the Washington Nationals win, as had happened in both games he attended last season.

As word spread through the Nationals' dugout in the second inning that President Bush had come to his first game this season, players and coaches turned and gazed up at the owner's box, pointing and talking to each other.

Before the game ended, another Ivy League graduate born in Texas -- 6-foot-10, 260-pound right-hander Chris Young -- had stolen Bush's spotlight, limiting the Nationals to just one run after Alfonso Soriano blasted Young's first pitch over the center field fence. Young's counterpart, Pedro Astacio, allowed three home runs, and the Nationals lost, 5-2, to the San Diego Padres.

"Tell him to keep coming out," Nationals shortstop Royce Clayton said. "See how his record stands up."

Make it 2-1 lifetime for Bush, as not even his presence could stop San Diego's dominance in D.C. The Padres swept the Nationals here last season, and last night won their second straight in Washington.

The Nationals had been making progress toward their goal of reaching a .500 record on this homestand, taking the first two series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Florida Marlins. But last night's loss made winning this series impossible and halted any momentum Washington had gathered heading into the all-star break.

"We play good, bad, good, bad," second baseman Jose Vidro said. "That's where we are right now."

By the time Bush left in the seventh inning, the Nationals had used four pitchers because of a short and unsuccessful outing by Astacio, who was making only his second start this season. Nationals Manager Frank Robinson had Astacio on an 85-pitch count, but Astacio couldn't last even that long. He exited after 66 pitches and 3 2/3 innings, having surrendered five runs, four earned, on nine hits.

Many of hits came when he was ahead in the count but left pitches at belt level.

"That's not good pitching," Robinson said. "You just don't do that. He didn't locate the ball well."

The outing contrasted with Astacio's first start this season, when he allowed just one run on three hits in five strong innings on Monday. He equaled that run total in just two batters last night when Mike Cameron hit a long solo home run off the clock in right center.

Astacio navigated through the next two innings without harm, but Adrian Gonzales greeted him in the fourth and knocked the first pitch over the left field fence to give the Padres a 2-1 lead.

After Khalil Greene singled for his fifth hit in two games this series, Mark Bellhorn drove the first pitch he saw into the Nationals' bullpen. The Padres led 4-1, and Astacio's pitch count was growing less and less relevant. Fatigue would not knock him out of this game; the Padres would. They added one more in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Dave Roberts, and Cameron finally chased him with a hard single.

Meanwhile, Astacio's opposite number, Young, mowed down batter after batter. A Princeton grad born in Dallas, Young is becoming one the league's most dominant pitchers in just his second full season. He was the National League pitcher of the month in June after going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA and striking out 34 in 30 2/3 innings. He entered last night's start with a 3.13 ERA this season, seventh in the National League.

"He's deceptive," Clayton said. "He's a big-framed guy, and the ball kind of jumps out at you. He changed eye levels and pitched well."

But not well enough for Soriano, who crushed Young's first offering, an inside fastball, deep to left center, tying the game at 1. It was Soriano's third leadoff home run this season and 26th off his career.

"I was thinking it was going to be a good night for us," Soriano said afterward.

But Young, who was originally signed by Nationals scouting director Dana Brown when Brown worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, cruised through the rest of the first and through the next five innings. The Nationals drew four hits off Young over that span and never threatened to score as the Padres wailed away at Astacio.

The Nationals have scored only four runs in two games against San Diego, which may not be enough if they want to salvage what had been a successful homestand.

"We got to really beat up on them," Robinson said with a sly grin. "Score about three or four runs."

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