Orioles Slip Past Nationals in 11

Jay Payton
Outfielder Jay Payton follows through on his game-winning double on Saturday. (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

It began with a 29-year-old left-hander named Mike Bacsik making his first major league start in nearly three years, and he responded by throwing six scoreless innings for the Washington Nationals on Saturday night. It effectively ended when Baltimore Orioles left fielder Jay Payton drove a slider from Nationals reliever Winston Abreu into the left field corner, a two-run double in the top of the 11th inning that provided a 3-2 victory for the Orioles, their second straight in this series.

But in between all that, over a span of more than 3 1/2 hours in front of 30,661 at RFK Stadium, Nationals Manager Manny Acta had devised a formula. If the Nationals held a lead in the late innings, he would split the seventh, eighth and ninth among his two best relievers, setup man Jon Rauch and closer Chad Cordero.

"We had our plan," Acta said. "Unfortunately, it just didn't work."

In Rauch's mind, it didn't work because of one person -- himself. Never mind that he entered last night's appearance having thrown 9 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, a span in which he had allowed just one hit. Never mind, too, that he had filled in admirably for Cordero, saving all three of his chances while the closer was away on bereavement leave to be with his dying grandmother.

Rauch's assessment of his performance -- in which he allowed the Orioles the tying run in the eighth in large part because he walked the leadoff man -- was simple.

"It's one of those games where I wish everybody would just point the finger at me," he said. "I come in, obviously don't do my job."

Such a harsh assessment came long after Bacsik unpredictably wowed the Orioles with an array of off-speed stuff that hadn't seen a major league park since 2004, when he was with Texas. The son of a former major league pitcher by the same name, Bacsik was released by the Nationals after the spring of 2006, and he wondered if he would ever get another chance. He got it with Arizona, who needed a starter for Class AAA Tucson, and he proceeded to go 11-0 with a 2.76 ERA last season.

So when Nationals starters began dropping with injuries -- four-fifths of the original starting rotation currently are on the disabled list -- Bacsik took the ball at Class AAA Columbus, and gripped it just a little too tight.

"I was trying to throw the ball harder than I'm capable," he said.

He had a chat with Columbus pitching coach Steve McCatty. The message was simple: Relax. He took that into last night's outing, despite the fact that he described himself as "nervous, excited."

"He throws under hitting speed," Payton said, and he worked around hits in each of his first five innings. His final line: six innings, five hits, no runs, one intentional walk and a single strikeout.

"I couldn't have written it better," Acta said.

Only if it had ended in a win. The Nationals scarcely touched Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed Nook Logan's dropped-in RBI double to right in the second before setting down 15 straight Washington hitters. With converted relievers Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner slated to start the next two games, Acta was wary of his bullpen.

The plan started off working perfectly as Rauch needed just eight pitches to get through the seventh. In the eighth, though, he walked Brian Roberts to start the inning, and the tying run was on. A Nick Markakis single, a double steal and an intentional walk led to Aubrey Huff's bases-loaded sacrifice fly, enough to make it 1-1.

"It's a huge momentum shift when you give up that run and the other team's finally back in the ballgame," Rauch said. "Like I said, I wish everybody could point the finger at me, and I wish I can take this one."

There were other culprits, no doubt. The Nationals could have won it in the ninth, but with runners on first and second, Austin Kearns -- now in a 5-for-38 slump -- popped to second and pinch hitter Tony Batista struck out. In the 10th, Cristian Guzman hit a hard liner with two outs and two men on, but the ball was right at Roberts, playing second.

And finally, there was Abreu, who walked Ramon Hernandez to lead off the 11th. That set up a situation in which Payton was up with two men on. Abreu threw him a slider.

"It was in the middle," Abreu said, and that mistake was all Payton needed to see. He drilled it into the left field corner, scoring both runs, making Batista's RBI single in the bottom of the 11th meaningless.

When the Orioles arrived here, they had lost five straight. Now they have two wins.

"When that game ended, we were extremely excited, a little bit more excited than I've seen them in a little bit," Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "It's good. You hope a couple of wins like that can start a streak for you."

In Rauch's mind, though, the streak should be starting for Washington, not Baltimore.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company