By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007
TORONTO, June 15 -- There might have been teams that looked at Friday's matchup on paper -- Toronto's Roy Halladay against their own Mike Bacsik -- and understood the realities of the situation. But the Washington Nationals have already experienced a slew of oddities this year -- Jason Bergmann over John Smoltz, Levale Speigner over Johan Santana, journeymen over stars. Heck, the only loss thus far for San Diego's Jake Peavy was the only win for Washington's John Patterson.
"Just like the movie, 'Any Given Sunday,' " outfielder Ryan Church said. "We're 'Any Given Day.' "
Friday, though, wasn't one of those days. Yes, the Nationals' 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays featured a pair of errors, a wild pitch, a balk and a shaky outing from Bacsik. But Manager Manny Acta could sum up in one word the reason his team lost for just the second time in seven games on this trip: "Halladay."
"He just overpowered us," Acta said. "When he's on, basically you have to match him up with your pitching staff and try to keep it close up until he makes a mistake, or [until] you can take advantage of their bullpen. That wasn't the case today."
Halladay, the right-hander who is as reliable as any starter in the American League, cruised through seven shutout innings before Ryan Langerhans touched him for a two-run homer with one out in the eighth. By that point, though, the Blue Jays had built a six-run lead, and the outcome appeared determined. Halladay's final line: 7 1/3 innings, seven hits, two runs, one walk and six strikeouts.
"He was good," Church said. "We lost."
Simple explanations for a game that was full of subtle oddities. Start with the fact that -- on a glorious Ontario day -- the roof at Rogers Centre wouldn't open because of a mechanical glitch, creating a stifled environment on what should have been a beautiful evening. Continue with an eight-minute delay caused when home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor had to leave in the middle of the fifth inning with an illness.
So maybe it was up to Halladay to provide some normalcy. Since 2002, no AL pitcher has won more games than Halladay. Friday night, in improving to 7-2 on the year, he won for the 84th time in that span -- more wins than Santana, the dominating lefty who has two Cy Young awards for the Minnesota Twins.
"He's had success for a reason," right fielder Austin Kearns said.
The Nationals saw it Friday: Late movement. Halladay's sinking fastball, Nationals' hitters said, doesn't do its diving until it's nearly on top of the hitter, so it's particularly hard to put the barrel on the ball. Then he tosses in a pinpoint curveball.
"The biggest thing is he can throw it for a strike when he wants to," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, "and he can throw it not for a strike when he wants to. That makes it harder."
It makes it harder, too, when the Nationals' pitcher is unable to match zeroes with him. Though Bacsik worked through three shutout innings, he was hardly sharp, allowing five base runners in that time, laboring a bit. By the fourth, the Blue Jays started seeing him for the third time. Adam Lind put Toronto up with a two-run homer on a hanging curve, and Troy Glaus followed with a two-out, RBI double that came after a pair of infield singles.
That 3-0 deficit was all Bacsik (1-4) allowed, but he understood his outing was less-than impressive. He didn't complete the fifth inning and lost his fourth straight start.
So now, he has five more days to think about his situation. Four injured Nationals starters -- John Patterson, Jerome Williams, Bergmann and Mike O'Connor -- made rehabilitation appearances in the minors on Friday. At some point, one or all of them will be feathered back into the major league rotation. And one by one, the fill-in starters who have helped the Nationals to a period of relative equilibrium -- Bacsik, Micah Bowie and Speigner -- will likely be moved back to the bullpen, or to the minors.
Do you think about that, Mike?
"Try not to," Bacsik said. "But I mean, I know guys are going to get healthy. . . . I just got to go out there when I get the ball and throw better."
Indeed, as much as he was hurt by infield singles in that three-run fourth, Bacsik allowed other balls to be crushed, several right at Nationals' fielders. Here, then, would be the major difference between a Roy Halladay and a Mike Bacsik. Halladay, with that late movement and dart-like control, can get away with occasionally pitching behind in the count. Bacsik can't.
"We said it all along," Acta said. "When you have that kind of stuff, you have to throw more strikes because you just don't have the stuff to get back into the zone and challenge guys. He just didn't do that today."
So if the Nationals are to win their fifth straight road series, they will have to win both Saturday and Sunday, games in which Toronto will throw Shaun Marcum and Josh Towers. Neither is a Halladay.
"That's the beautiful thing about baseball," Church said. "We've got tomorrow."