Nationals' Lopez Drills Ex-Mates

Felipe Lopez, whose six RBI tied a career high, cracks a grand slam to break open a tie game in the eighth.
Felipe Lopez, whose six RBI tied a career high, cracks a grand slam to break open a tie game in the eighth. (By Tom Uhlman -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CINCINNATI, May 22 -- That Felipe Lopez entered Tuesday night hitting .197 in the month of May bothered him not at all, because, as he said: "I've been in this position before. It's nothing new." That he was playing against the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he was once an all-star, mattered not to him because, as he said, "I don't really think about those things."

What mattered, then, was the moment Tuesday night when Lopez capped a career night by driving a tiebreaking grand slam to center field in the eighth inning of what became an 8-4 victory for the Washington Nationals, a win badly needed after a painful loss the night before, one that overshadowed something of a historic moment from Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Jr.

Lopez's contributions: three hits in five at-bats, including a pair of doubles and the third grand slam of his career, not to mention six RBI, which tied a career high. Because of that, the Nationals scored more runs than they had all year and overcame the 573rd homer of Griffey's illustrious career, a two-run shot off rookie Matt Chico that pulled him into a tie for eighth on the career list with Harmon Killebrew, who hit 84 of those homers as a Washington Senator.

"He's just amazing," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said of Griffey. "He's a guy that, no contest, if he wouldn't have gotten hurt and lost all those games, he probably would be chasing 800 home runs now."

That task, however, will be left to Barry Bonds, and the Nationals could reflect on Griffey's status because of Lopez's night and some solid work from the bullpen, which contributed 3 1/3 shutout innings in relief of Chico. But in some ways, this four-game series is about the guys who remain in Cincinnati, such as Griffey, and the guys who have moved on, such as Lopez.

When Lopez and Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns arrived Monday at Great American Ball Park for the first time since last July's eight-player trade between the two clubs, they were besieged by interview requests. Kearns, who grew up in nearby Lexington, Ky., and had known no other organization in his professional career, was the center of attention, and he was surprised by the level of interest.

Lopez, too, was asked about his frustration over the trade; the Reds were in contention for the playoffs at the time of the deal, while the Nationals finished in last place in the National League East. He shrugged it off Monday, and he shrugged it off Tuesday night, even after he beat his old team.

"They're the opposing team now," Lopez said. "I have no grudges with anybody there. That's why I'm playing like it's just any other team."

Kearns, though, wondered if that was the case.

"You always try to limit whatever it is when you come home and you got traded from here, and people are saying it's a big deal," he said. "You try to keep it at a minimum. But I'm sure, deep down, you always want to do well against the team that traded you."

Lopez's first game against his old squad was uneventful, a 1-for-5 evening that, unfortunately for Washington, has been typical of his season thus far. Entrusted with the leadoff position vacated by the departed Alfonso Soriano in the offseason, he was hitting all of .238 with a .290 on-base percentage coming into Tuesday night. Though the primary players that the Nationals sent to Cincinnati -- relievers Gary Majewski and Bill Bray -- are in the minors and injured, respectively, the struggles of Kearns and Lopez thus far this season have tainted evaluations of the trade.

Yet even as his average plummeted, Lopez showed little outward emotion.

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