There's No Easy Way For Nats
Mistakes on Routine Plays Prove Crucial: Mets 3, Nationals 1

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006

Marlon Anderson's version was accurate, concise. "I just missed it," he said, and the ball bounced away, allowing the tying run to score and Tony Armas Jr.'s promising afternoon to collapse at Anderson's feet.

Ryan Zimmerman's explanation was embarrassing but true. "I thought there were two outs," he said, but there was only one, so when Zimmerman bolted from first and a fly ball was caught, he was easily doubled off, left standing in the middle of the field, alone.

Frank Robinson, the manager of the Washington Nationals, could only sum up his team's 3-1 loss to the New York Mets in simple terms, because the mistakes were there for the crowd of 37,732 to see, exposed and self-evident.

"You expect major league players to make certain plays," Robinson said, "and we didn't make a routine play today."

The Nationals finished with three errors, two in the seventh inning, when the Mets got not to Armas -- who was brilliant in a seven-inning outing -- but to the Washington fielders to tie the game at 1. They finished with Zimmerman's Little League gaffe, which cost the Nationals a potential rally in the bottom of the eighth.

And they finished with the indignity of Michael Tucker -- a veteran outfielder cut by Washington four days before the season opener -- hitting the game-winning homer off Jon Rauch in the top of the eighth, a solo shot that was Tucker's first major league homer in more than a year.

"It's one of those things where you can't hold any grudges," Tucker said. "It's business."

It was not particularly pleasant business for the Nationals, who lost two of three to the National League's best team over the weekend. The only bright spot was Armas. For much of the day, it appeared that would be enough, even with Mets right-hander Steve Trachsel mystifying the Nationals. The Nats-Mets game was the only major league game yesterday that pitted two starters with ERAs over 5.00 against each other, yet the two combined to allow seven hits and one earned run in 13 2/3 innings.

Armas was particularly effective. After Trachsel gave up Alfonso Soriano's solo homer to lead off the fourth -- the Nationals' first hit of the day, the 200th homer of Soriano's career -- it looked as if Armas might make it hold up. He retired the first 10 men of the game for the first time in his career. He allowed a one-out single in the fourth to Endy Chavez and a leadoff single in the seventh to Carlos Beltran. That was it.

"He was outstanding," Robinson said. "I don't know if he's pitched any better than that."

The single to Beltran, though, started the unraveling. After Carlos Delgado flew out and David Wright hit into a fielder's choice, Jose Valentin came to the plate. Armas got the count to 1-2. As he unfurled for the fourth pitch in the at-bat, Wright broke for second, anything to get a runner in scoring position, down by one.

The pitch was off the outside part of the plate. Catcher Brian Schneider unleashed his throw, but it sailed high into center field. Wright not only reached second, he moved up 90 more feet to third.

Afterward, Robinson was asked if Schneider -- who battled shoulder problems late last season -- was healthy enough to throw as well as he had in the past. "Ask Schneider," Robinson said.

Schneider, in the midst of a large group of reporters after the game, was asked if he was healthy. "I'm not hurt," he said sharply. Uncharacteristically, he stormed back to the players' lounge, slamming a chair on the way. "How many times do I have to say it?" he shouted.

Schneider's fourth error of the season might not have mattered, because Armas got Valentin to ground the next pitch toward Anderson, filling in for the injured Jose Vidro. Anderson surrounded the ball, waiting to preserve the 1-0 lead. He didn't do it.

"It's a play that should have been made," Anderson said. "The ball wasn't hit that hard. That's pretty much it: It should've been made."

Wright pumped his fist as he crossed home plate, the score tied. Armas retired the next batter, and his day was over -- 98 pitches, two hits, one walk, no earned runs, but no win.

"It's part of the game," he said. "If it happened, it happened."

In the bottom of the inning, Tucker was inserted as a defensive replacement as part of a double-switch, when right-hander Chad Bradford replaced lefty Royce Ring. Bradford, a side-armer, had one task: retire Soriano with the bases loaded. And when Valentin came across the field to take Soriano's grounder up the middle, throwing him out at first base by a step, Bradford exhaled, and Tucker's homer made Bradford the winner.

"It's frustrating," Soriano said, "because I did not do anything to help us win the game."

And then, the final indignity. Zimmerman singled with one out in the eighth, and with Nick Johnson up, the Nationals tried to hit-and-run. Problem: Zimmerman kept running. Johnson's fly ball was caught easily by Beltran.

"By the time I realized it, there was nothing I could do," Zimmerman said. "So I just had to sit there and watch them throw the ball to first. It was a pretty bad feeling, but I made a mistake, and that's it."

The last chance, actually, came when the Nationals managed a hit and walk against Mets closer Billy Wagner in the ninth. It came down to Brandon Harper, a backup catcher in his second major league game. When Harper popped up to a sliding Carlos Delgado in foul ground, Delgado pumped his fist, and the Nationals began the process of trying to forget a game that was, for the wrong reasons, quite memorable.

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