Correction to This Article
This June 15 Sports article misstated the Washington Nationals' all-time record against the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals are 7-5 against the Orioles, not 6-6.

Nationals Complete Their 3-Game Sweep of Orioles

Starter Jason Simontacchi goes 7 innings, walks four, gives up nine hits, but just one run, in improving to 4-4. The Nats and O's are now 29-37.
Starter Jason Simontacchi goes 7 innings, walks four, gives up nine hits, but just one run, in improving to 4-4. The Nats and O's are now 29-37. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

BALTIMORE, June 14 -- Before the season, baseball fans around the Beltway scanned Washington's roster and debated whether they might be witnesses to history. The open question was whether the Nationals would sink to the level of the historically awful.

Yet with Thursday night's 3-1 victory over Baltimore before 20,770 at Camden Yards, the Nationals completed a three-game sweep and found themselves with precisely the same record as the Orioles -- 29-37.

"We're playing hard and we're playing good ball," said Jon Rauch, who pitched the Nationals out of an eighth-inning jam to help preserve the team's second three-game sweep of the season. The Nationals have won five of six on this nine-game road trip that concludes this weekend in Toronto.

Further, the sweep evened the Nationals' all-time record with their area rivals at 6-6.

The game turned in the eighth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman ripped a Chad Bradford pitch to center to score Cristian Guzman from second to snap a 1-1 tie.

Baltimore tried to answer in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs. But Rauch, who has battled inconsistency this season, struck out Paul Bako to end the threat.

It was a little before Rauch got Bako that things really heated up, with Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo ejected by first base umpire Ed Montague for arguing a strikeout call against Jay Payton as he attempted to lay down a bunt. Baltimore went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

"When Jay was trying to bunt, I thought that he pulled the bat back and [plate umpire Marvin Hudson] called a ball," Perlozzo said. "I'm not getting ejected because I'm frustrated. The game is not easy to lose, but frustration has nothing to do with my ejection."

Washington added a run in the ninth and Chad Cordero nailed down the save.

Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie pitched seven strong innings, allowing one run on four hits with five strikeouts. He was matched by Nationals starter Jason Simontacchi, who was even on the scoreboard but not nearly as efficient. But Simontacchi proved the better magician, dancing out of trouble to pitch into the eighth inning for the second straight outing.

"You try to stay focused in between innings and just try to make pitches," said Simontacchi, who completed seven innings and allowed one run on nine hits and four walks.

With one down in the second inning, Simontacchi walked the No. 9 hitter, the light-hitting Bako, to load the bases for Brian Roberts. But Simontacchi avoided paying a price for his mistake, getting Roberts to ground into a double play to end the inning.

Simontacchi tempted trouble again in the third, allowing a leadoff walk to Melvin Mora before Nick Markakis stroked a single to right. But again, Simontacchi squirmed out of the jam. First, he picked Mora off at second base. Then, Simontacchi started an inning-ending double play by getting Orioles cleanup hitter Miguel Tejada to hit a bouncer back to the mound.

"Outstanding job by Simontacchi," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "He got in trouble with walks and hits, but he made pitches when he had to and our defense was big for him, too."

Nationals second baseman Felipe Lopez, who entered play batting just .093 (4 for 43) in his last 10 games, put the Nationals ahead 1-0 in the fifth, hitting a two-out double to left that scored Ryan Langerhans. Despite his recent struggles, Lopez continues to excel when batting with two outs, raising his average in those situations to .315 (23 for 73) this season.

Baltimore answered in the sixth, inning, when Aubrey Huff scored on Jay Gibbons's sacrifice fly to center.

It stayed that way until Zimmerman came through with his single and Langerhans doubled home Nook Logan in the ninth for an insurance run.

"We're not playing that much better," said Zimmerman, whose team went 3 for 10 with runners in scoring position. "We're just getting some breaks and capitalizing, getting the big hit."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company