By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Washington Nationals Manager Manny Acta didn't mince words when asked about the significance of Jerome Williams's start against the New York Mets last night.
"When you are not an established guy up here and you're struggling, every start is important," Acta said.
He stopped short of saying Williams needed a strong showing to remain in the rotation, or even the majors. Williams's statistics, though, might have said it for him: The 25-year-old right-hander, who has battled control and confidence issues, lugged an 0-4 record and an unsightly 7.77 ERA to the mound.
And his problems didn't figure to ease any in front of a crowd of 29,292 at RFK Stadium, where Williams was matched against one of the league's best lineups and one of the game's top pitchers, savvy lefty Tom Glavine.
Yet, improbably, Williams was one of the bright spots in the Nationals' 6-2 loss in 12 innings.
But Williams's memorable performance, which likely saved his job -- for now at least -- went to waste thanks to the inability of closer Chad Cordero to do his job. Mets pinch hitter Julio Franco blasted an RBI single in the ninth -- the third hit surrendered by Cordero in the inning -- to knot the score at 2.
That's how it remained until the 12th, when New York center fielder Carlos Beltran smacked a two-run double off of right-hander Ryan Wagner. Moments later, Mets third baseman David Wright singled home two more runs. And that was that for the Nationals, whose modest two-game winning streak came to an end.
Up until Cordero's meltdown, the night had belonged to Williams. Before leaving one batter into the seventh inning with a mildly sprained left ankle, which he injured swinging the bat, Williams had held the Mets scoreless on one hit, despite throwing 45 balls, 40 strikes and issuing five walks.
A thing of beauty it was not. But it did signal progress for Williams.
Although it wasn't immediately clear whether the injury might cost him any playing time, one thing was clear as Williams walked off the mound: Acta and General Manager Jim Bowden likely will face a significantly more difficult decision when right-hander Jason Simontacchi returns from a strained groin muscle, which could happen in the next 10 days. Simontacchi is expected to make one more start for Class AAA Columbus before rejoining Washington.
Williams was not sharp early on, walking four batters in the first three innings. But he managed to escape unscathed thanks to a diving putout by Ryan Zimmerman to end the second inning. Zimmerman made two other sparkling defensive plays, but he also committed a costly error.
Williams, meantime, settled into a groove in the fourth. He retired Wright, Moises Alou and Shawn Green in order -- all on long fly balls.
And with that, Williams took a no-hitter into the fifth.
Nothing Williams had done up until last night suggested he was capable of such a performance. In his previous start, he was roughed up by Florida, surrendering nine earned runs on nine hits in six innings in the Nationals' 12-6 loss. He also gave up three home runs in that game.
Williams's no-hit bid was broken up in the sixth inning by Beltran, who smacked a one-out single to center field. Carlos Delgado, however, hit into a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, Williams also got it done with his bat. He launched a Glavine fastball off the wall in left field. But the pitcher was held to a single because he was slow to leave the batter's box, preferring instead to watch the ball sail deep into the night. It missed clearing the outfield fence by about two feet.
Despite his base running blunder, the Nationals managed to take a 1-0 lead. The next batter, shortstop Felipe Lopez, reached on a controversial fielder's choice. Mets Manager Willie Randolph was ejected for arguing the call with first base umpire Tony Randazzo. Three pitches later, second baseman Ronnie Belliard doubled home Lopez with the game's first run.
After Wright walked to lead off the seventh inning, Williams was replaced by Jesus Colome, who promptly gave up a run. Colome got Alou to ground into a double play, but Green singled and eventually reached third on an error by Zimmerman. Green then scored on a wild pitch, tying the game at 1.
Belliard's second double of the night, off Aaron Heilman in the eighth, scored Jesus Flores from third base and put the Nationals ahead 2-1.
Note: Mets second baseman Jose Valentin left the game after the fourth inning with discomfort in his right knee. He was replaced by Damion Easley.