By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007
RFK Stadium was the setting of several firsts last night. Center fielder Brandon Watson had the first multi-RBI game of his career, with the first of his two runs batted in coming on his first major league hit since April 2006.
Right-hander Luis Ayala made his 2007 major league debut when he relieved starter Micah Bowie and worked out of a bases-loaded jam with the score tied at 1.
Bowie threw more than 100 pitches for the first time this season, though he racked up that pitch count in just 4 1/3 innings. He also struck out more than six batters for the first time in 2007 (he finished with seven).
But for all the firsts the Nationals witnessed, it was their ability to avoid a crucial one that sent a crowd of 24,534 home content. Washington knocked off the Cleveland Indians, 4-1, pushing its record to 7-0 in games in which Bowie has started.
"Micah ran up his pitch count too early and couldn't throw his fastball over the plate," Manager Manny Acta said. "All the credit goes to the bullpen."
A patrol of Ayala, Saul Rivera, Ray King, Jesus Colome, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero turned in 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, but it was the player Acta referred to as "The Kid" who made the biggest impression.
Watson gained national attention at Class AAA Columbus before being called up on Wednesday. His 43-game hitting streak set an International League record, though Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden put that accomplishment into perspective upon greeting Watson before Wednesday night's game.
"Mr. Watson, welcome home; congratulations on your streak," Bowden said as he shook Watson's hand. "Start a new one up here. You know they only count up here, don't you?"
Watson understood, but that did not make the task any easier. He went 0 for 3 that night.
Then came last night against the Indians' Fausto Carmona, he of the 8-2 record and 3.12 ERA. After grounding out to the pitcher in the second, Watson had hits in his next two at-bats. His single in the fourth brought home Ryan Church for his first major league RBI since Oct. 1, 2005. His double in the sixth scored Austin Kearns.
"It was a sigh of relief to get that first [hit] out of the way," Watson said. "But I'm not going to put any pressure on myself to do anything. I'm going to stay within myself this time."
Ayala, who underwent surgery on his right elbow in March 2006 and missed all of last season, got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth by inducing pinch hitter Travis Hafner into a double play with what Ayala said is his best pitch, the sinker.
"He's not a kid, so that's one thing I took into consideration," Acta said of bringing Ayala, 29, into the game at that point. "He's got a zillion innings of winter ball. It would have been totally different if he were a 21- or 22-year-old guy."
Rivera toed the rubber in the fifth and retired the side in order, a vast improvement over his performance two nights earlier against the Detroit Tigers, when he walked two, gave up a hit and allowed three earned runs without recording an out.
"I just forgot" about Wednesday night, said Rivera, who noted the difference was that he was able to locate his fastball and work ahead in the count against the Indians. "I have to have a short-term memory and take care of business today."
As for Bowie, the Nationals can remind themselves that they are unbeaten in games he has started. But as impressive as his strikeouts were, the four walks and five hits he allowed in his short night of work were equally disappointing. He tossed 104 pitches, 58 for strikes, and gave up one run.
"It felt like every bit of [104 pitches], but I got through it with minimal damage," Bowie said. "I wasn't executing very quick outs, and I kind of labored all night."
After striking out four batters in two innings, Bowie veered off path in the top of the third, allowing consecutive walks with two outs before giving up an RBI single to Jhonny Peralta.
The Indians posed a threat in the eighth against Rauch. Victor Martinez led off with a double and advanced to third on a two-out single by Josh Barfield. With the tying run at the plate, Rauch struck out pinch hitter Trot Nixon swinging.