Nationals' Offense Fails To Show Executive Ardor

Former Nat Alfonso Soriano, right, is greeted at the plate by Aramis Ramirez after scoring on a sacrifice fly that gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead.
Former Nat Alfonso Soriano, right, is greeted at the plate by Aramis Ramirez after scoring on a sacrifice fly that gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

Nationals Manager Manny Acta had heard President Bush might make an appearance at RFK Stadium last night, but he did not believe it until he saw the sharpshooters positioned throughout the ballpark.

Nationals starting pitcher Jason Bergmann also saw the sharpshooters and understood exactly what they were there to do. Bergmann was hoping for a little protection himself -- from his lineup, not the Secret Service.

The president weathered the evening just fine; Bergmann and the Nationals weren't as fortunate, losing, 4-2, to the Chicago Cubs after another anemic offensive display.

"You can't let it get to you; it affects your pitching," Bergmann said of the lack of run support he received from his teammates. "They're doing the best they can. I just keep saying that we've got good hitters."

The right-hander certainly did not let the Nationals' offensive performance alter his approach on the mound. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits -- easily his best performance since returning from a stint on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation.

Bergmann said he took solace in the fact that he was able to bounce back from his previous outing. He lasted just four innings at Pittsburgh on June 30, giving up six runs on eight hits.

"I thought I regressed a little bit," Bergmann said of that performance. Last night? "I proved that Pittsburgh was a fluke for me."

The Nationals' six-run outburst on the Fourth of July also looks a little like a fluke in light of the team's recent output. Last night marked a return to the form that has seen the club score more than four runs just once in its past 15 games.

"We did all right against" Cubs starter Sean Marshall, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We just hit balls right at people."

At no point was the third baseman's statement more true than in the bottom of the eighth inning. Zimmerman and first baseman Dmitri Young hit back-to-back singles before shortstop Felipe Lopez walked to load the bases with two outs. Catcher Brian Schneider then lined out to Cubs first baseman Daryle Ward to end the inning and the Nationals' last threat of the night.

"You hit the ball right on the screws, and it goes right at someone," Schneider said. "You see all those holes in the field, and you wonder why you couldn't find one."

The Nationals stranded eight base runners on the night.

Marshall went 5 1/3 innings as well, giving up two runs on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts. The difference between Marshall and Bergmann, however, was that the Cubs were able to give their starter some protection.

With the score tied at 2 in the seventh, the Cubs rallied for three consecutive singles off Nationals reliever Luis Ayala, the last of which came off the bat of Mike Fontenot and brought home Angel Pagan to provide Chicago the lead.

The Nationals' bats remained silent until the sixth inning when the club's lone all-star, Young, sliced a triple into right field and scored Zimmerman from first base. Austin Kearns followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center field that scored Young to tie the game at 2.

When asked after the game what he thought of his triple, Young joked that he still needed some extra oxygen. But the 11-year veteran was careful to offer support to those around him in the lineup.

"We can't put pressure on ourselves," Young said. "This is a young team, and to find success, you have to have failures."

Some failures, it seems, must be repeated before a correction will be found. With one out in the ninth, Ryan Church entered the game as a pinch hitter with a chance to right himself in the batter's box. The outfielder, a starter most of this season, had seen his average dip to.253 in the wake of recent struggles. He stepped in to face Cubs reliever Bob Howry with his team trailing by two runs, only to pop out in foul territory to Aramis Ramirez.

"It's not frustrating," Acta said of the team's offensive woes. "I don't get frustrated by baseball stuff. We're going to snap out of it like we did before."

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