Nats Win Slugfest Vs. Willis, Marlins

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 14, 2007

MIAMI, July 13 -- It was extremely difficult to decide what was more unusual: seeing Florida Marlins starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, known for his throwback style and nice-guy image, booed off the field by his hometown fans, or the Washington Nationals, known for their anemic offense and low-run ballgames, running around the dirt infield at Dolphin Stadium as if they were doing base-running drills.

One abnormality, as it turned out, led to the other. An early and monumental collapse by Willis, which attracted the resounding disapproval of the crowd of 11,438, helped Washington, at least for one night, bear a striking resemblance to a high-powered offensive machine.

The Nationals won their first game after the all-star break by a 14-10 margin, out-punching the Marlins Friday in an uncustomary slugfest. Actually, there could be something to this: The Nationals have scored 26 runs in three straight victories. They have won four of their last six.

"You don't want it to be that close when you score than many runs," Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. But "pitching was good enough for us to get by. That's not the way we want to do it, but we'll take it."

The lowest-scoring team in the majors, the Nationals ended up with the highest run total in team history. Every starting position player tallied at least one hit and reached base two or more times. Second baseman Ronnie Belliard banged out three hits and four Nationals earned two each.

The only thing Washington did not get was a home run. Ryan Zimmerman was denied that in the third inning despite crushing a 425-foot shot to the deepest part of center field that was caught on the warning track.

The teams combined for 30 hits (17 for Washington) and 13 walks. They used 12 pitchers. It took nearly three hours just to get to the seventh-inning stretch. The final out was recorded after 3 hours 29 minutes.

"It was important for us to win that game after we got off to such a fast start," Zimmerman said.

The best starting point in explaining this wild game: The starting pitchers. Willis, who earned his fifth straight loss, didn't make it out of a fourth inning in which he walked three, allowed three hits and threw one easy ground ball into right field. (Two passed balls by catcher Miguel Olivo contributed to the Nationals' six-run splurge.) Willis, booed lustily when he was yanked with two out, left trailing 8-1.

"I'm pretty sure he won't be doing that very often," said Nook Logan, who had two hits, including a triple, two walks and four runs scored. "We just came out today and got the best of him."

Then there was Washington starter Jason Bergmann, who entered the game considered just about the unluckiest pitcher in Major League Baseball. He had allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his 11 starts, but miserable run support left him with just one victory. Five times his teammates provided him with no runs while he was on the mound.

Tonight, he got 11.

And he responded by allowing 8 of his own.

Nationals Manager Manny Acta told Bergmann, "I'm going to give you a chance to get yourself straight here. But I'm not going to put our lead in jeopardy."

Every time Washington jumped ahead, Bergman gave some or all of the lead back, turning what might have been an extraordinary rout into an extraordinary offensive shoot-out. He finished with eight runs on seven hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. That's exactly one-third of the total he allowed in his first 11 games. Bergmann's lapses left the victory to reliever Saul Rivera, who allowed one run and three hits in 1 2/3 innings.

"You get that many runs, it shouldn't be that hard to pitch," Bergmann said. "I made it difficult on myself. . . . Today, for whatever reason, I just failed at my job."

In the top of the first, the Nationals jumped ahead on a one-run single by Schneider, who suffered a contusion to his right leg while behind the plate but said after the game he expected to catch Saturday. In the bottom of that inning, Bergmann gave up a leadoff home run by Mike Jacobs.

Washington came back, scoring a run in the third and six in the fourth, the highlights a triple by Logan and a three-run double by Dmitri Young.

Bergmann promptly allowed a three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth to Alfredo Amezaga.

In the top of the fifth, Washington added three more runs after Ryan Church led off with a ground-rule double and Felipe Lopez, Logan and Belliard each singled. In the bottom half, Bergmann gave it all back, allowing a three-run home run to Josh Willingham -- and a run-scoring single by Amezaga to make the score 11-9.

A two-run single by Austin Kearns in the seventh-inning stretched the lead to four runs. Florida added its final run when Hanley Ramirez tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

"We're not expecting this every day, obviously," Acta said. "Things worked out for us. It wasn't the prettiest game, but we won."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company