Soriano, Nats Are Held in Check

Alfonso Soriano misses another opportunity to get aboard, steal his 40th base of the season on an eighth-inning fly out.
Alfonso Soriano misses another opportunity to get aboard, steal his 40th base of the season on an eighth-inning fly out. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006

It has come to this during the final days of this dreary Washington Nationals season: Alfonso Soriano on base, any base, waiting for the fitting moment to run into history -- a 40th steal to accompany his 40-plus home runs.

In the first inning last night, after leading off with a walk, Soriano was tilting toward second when Tomo Ohka's pickoff attempt skipped out of play and handed him a free base. So much for that.

So why not try to swipe third? Felipe Lopez quickly ended that suggestion with a bunt single.

Stealing home was too much to ask, even if it did mean possibly joining Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco in the exclusive 40-40 club.

Soriano's continuing pursuit was one of the few riveting moments for the Nationals, who endured another inadequate performance by a starting pitcher, allowed two homers by Geoff Jenkins and dropped a 5-2 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers before 21,168 at RFK Stadium.

"I was ready to go," Soriano said. "My first move is always to go to second base."

Soriano did not get any more opportunities after striking out twice and flying out, delaying his seminal moment for at least another day. He said afterward that he is eager to get it out of the way "because I have a little pressure now. My teammates, my friends and my family -- they wait for me to see me steal 40 bases. It is going to happen anytime, sooner or later it is going to come."

Soriano -- and, for that matter, the rest of the Nationals -- failed to reach base between the third and eighth innings because rookie Carlos Villanueva relieved Ohka (strained hamstring) and shut them down until the ninth to earn his first major league victory.

Washington stirred in its final at-bat. Lopez tripled and Ryan Zimmerman singled to knock out Villanueva, but after Francisco Cordero loaded the bases with a pair of walks, pinch hitter Austin Kearns struck out to end it.

"We've got to be prepared for everybody because you never know what's going to happen," Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro said of Villanueva's sudden appearance. "He just threw a very good ballgame."

The last time Ramon Ortiz pitched at home, he took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Cardinals. Last night, it took only four batters to end that prospect and, by the middle of the fifth inning, he was gone -- a typically rough outing for the 33-year-old right-hander.

Other than that gem against the Cardinals, Ortiz has not won since Aug. 9. This effort had been preceded by a loss at Colorado last weekend in which he made it to the seventh inning but allowed seven runs (five earned).

In the first inning, Soriano did not get that opportunity to steal a base, but he did score the first run on Zimmerman's double-play grounder.

Washington's lead was short-lived, however. Prince Fielder doubled off the right-center field wall, a drive that Ryan Church failed to catch despite putting himself in position to make a nice play. One out later, Jenkins sent Ortiz's 1-0 pitch out of Church's reach and just over the right field fence.

Ortiz (10-14) escaped trouble in the third after a pair of infield hits -- the first by Ohka, a former National who strained his right hamstring while running it out and had to leave the game. After the game, the Brewers indicated that Ohka's injury may end his season.

In the fourth, Jenkins bashed his second home run for his 14th of the year and ninth multi-homer game of his career.

"I try to make the pitch down and make a good location," Ortiz said, "but he hit everything."

The Brewers didn't stop there.

Jeff Cirillo doubled down the left field line and, after Ortiz hit Mike Rivera on the elbow, Ohka's replacement, Villanueva, chopped the ball past the charging Zimmerman at third for his first career hit. Cirillo scored easily and Rivera took third when Soriano bobbled the ball and no one covered the base. Tony Quinn's sacrifice fly made it 5-1.

Meantime, Villanueva, recalled from Class AAA Nashville on Monday and in his third stint of the year with Milwaukee, was silencing the Nationals. He began his outing by striking out Soriano and proceeded to retire the next eight batters in order before facing Soriano leading off the sixth. He whiffed him again.

Villanueva induced three gentle fly balls in the seventh and struck out Brian Schneider to start the eighth before Fielder let Nook Logan's grounder dribble between his legs. Pinch hitter Robert Fick fouled out, bringing up Soriano for the final time.

With a runner on base, however, it probably was not going to matter what Soriano did in his chase for the elusive steal. He flied out anyway.

In the ninth, the Nationals made it interesting before leaving the bases loaded.

"I was just happy we had the opportunity to put men on base," Manager Frank Robinson said. "We had the opportunity to bring the tying run to the plate when we had done nothing all night other than the first two hitters in the first inning. We still had a chance to win a ballgame."

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