Mitre Stymies Nats

Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera is unable to throw out the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman at first base in the first inning at Dolphins Stadium.
Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera is unable to throw out the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman at first base in the first inning at Dolphins Stadium. (By Alan Diaz -- Associated Press)
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

MIAMI, July 14 -- It was back to normal for the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, which is to say they made calamitous mistakes on the mound, produced virtually no offense and went down meekly to a sub-par team.

If the result, a 5-2 loss to the Florida Marlins at Dolphins Stadium, was routine, the showstopper that helped put them in their place was most certainly not.

Marlins youngster Sergio Mitre put forth 7 2/3 innings that could be marketed as an instructional video: "How to Exasperate the Opposition with the Sinkerball." A veteran of just over two seasons, Mitre coolly, methodically and thoroughly stamped out any remaining giddiness from Washington's startling 14-run explosion in a victory Friday.

"He had our guys beating the ball into the ground all night," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.

Shortly after the defeat, which ended Washington's three-game winning streak, Mitre dropped into a leather chair in the Marlins' clubhouse, munched on burnt toast (no symbolism was intended) and talked about the effort as if it were a run-of-the-mill day on the job.

"I wouldn't say I was mowing them down," said Mitre, 26. "I was just trying to stay on my ballgame. They were swinging early, probably just trying to catch a flat sinker. . . . And that didn't happen."

The long-haired, goateed and mustachioed Mitre owned the Nationals from his first pitch at 7:06 p.m., when Ryan Langerhans recorded Washington's first out on a ground ball to first base. For the better part of the next eight innings, Mitre teased Washington's hitters by giving them balls they could hit -- just not in the air or out of the infield.

"He was on," left fielder Ryan Church said. "We knew from the first inning he would be around the strike zone. He was pounding the zone. I can't count how many [groundouts to first base or the pitcher] there were. It was a ton. We were just too aggressive."

Mitre, whose mere three victories entering the game reflected the meager run support (3.36 average) he had received rather than his own effectiveness (2.85 ERA) surrendered just one smash all night, a run-scoring double by Ronnie Belliard with two outs in the eighth inning.

That ended Mitre's night. Marlins reliever Armando Benitez was summoned to finish that inning, ending the Nationals' fleeting threat with a strikeout of Ryan Zimmerman.

The victory was actually Mitre's first at Dolphin Stadium. He allowed six hits and struck out three, walking none. A Los Angeles native, Mitre has impressed all season after a year in which he went 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA while battling injuries.

"I was feeling good," he said. "I wasn't fatigued or anything."

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