Road Work Pays Off For Nats

Chad Cordero
Chad Cordero enters the game in the ninth inning to face the last batter of the game and gets two outs for his ninth save this season and the 100th of his career. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BALTIMORE, June 12 -- Dwelling on it does them no good, and they know it, but it is an undeniable truth. RFK Stadium, where the Washington Nationals have 48 home games remaining before moving on to new digs, is a difficult park in which to hit home runs. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Nationals opened a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night, can give them away.

"There's really nothing to compare," Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "This is a good ballpark to hit in. Ours isn't."

So the Nationals have a simple philosophy on the road: relax, take some deep breaths and get in some hacks. Tuesday, they ripped three homers off Orioles right-hander Daniel Cabrera, the offense they needed in a 7-4 victory over Baltimore that was their third win in four games to start this road trip.

The homers came off the bats of Ryan Church, Zimmerman and Brian Schneider, and coupled with a two-out, two-run double from Felipe Lopez, they drove Cabrera from the game in the fifth, having allowed all seven runs. And those shots showed how different things are for the Nationals on the road. Church was asked where his homer, a solo shot the opposite way to left, would have landed at RFK.

"Behind the shortstop," he said flatly.

There were many elements to this one, not the least of which was a six-inning outing from Nationals lefty Micah Bowie, a veteran in the process of being reborn as a starter. Bowie allowed just three hits, all in the second inning, a frame in which he gave up a three-run homer to Melvin Mora. Closer Chad Cordero, who looked as if he would have the night off when the Nationals took a four-run lead into the ninth, came on to relieve the shaky Jesus Colome and notched the 100th save of his career -- "and he's going to have a lot more," Manager Manny Acta said.

But the difference-makers were the homers, and the comparison with RFK is striking. In 33 games at RFK this year, the Nationals have hit 16 homers -- less than half a homer per game. After Tuesday night, they have hit 24 homers in 31 road games, more than three-quarters of a homer per game. They don't have a game with at least three homers at RFK; Tuesday was their third such game on the road.

"They feel better," Acta said. "They feel more at ease. They feel if they hit a ball good, it's going to go out of the park. And at home, you got to put pretty much everything on it or hit the ball down the line. They feel good on the road. Let's face it -- it's a little bit more legit distance on the road."

So, the Nationals feel, they get more legit results.

"We take the same approach we do at home," Church said. "The balls at home just don't go out. There's nothing you can do about it. Everybody sees it."

By the time Zimmerman faced Cabrera in the third, the Nationals trailed 3-1. He erased that with one swing, a two-out shot to left that tied it, his 10th homer of the year.

Much has been made of Zimmerman's ability to match his rookie season of 2006, when he hit .287 with 20 homers and 110 RBI. After Tuesday's 2-for-4 evening, his average was just .247, and he has not been nearly as consistent as he wants. But it's worth noting that last season, his 10th homer came on June 18. Through June 12 a year ago, he had 38 RBI. Now, he has 37.

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