Nats Can't Catch the Mets

Newly acquired Wily Mo Peña slides home to pull Washington within 2-1 in the second inning. Peña started in left field, doubled and scored twice.
Newly acquired Wily Mo Peña slides home to pull Washington within 2-1 in the second inning. Peña started in left field, doubled and scored twice. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2007

Despite the Washington Redskins preseason home opener that was taking place at FedEx Field, the third-largest crowd of the season packed into RFK Stadium last night. Some of the 35,157 were there to see the New York Mets, who sit atop the National League East standings. But others came to watch the Washington Nationals' newest acquisition make his debut.

Before fans filtered into the stadium and long before the Mets claimed a 7-4 victory, outfielder Wily Mo Peña took batting practice for the first time in a Nationals uniform. One shot carried over the left-center field fence. Then another. And another.

At one point, Peña clobbered a ball off the Section 535 sign in the left field upper deck, which later prompted first baseman Dmitri Young to comment: "I haven't seen power like that in years. That ain't right."

However, the Nationals will have to wait at least one more night before witnessing Peña's power when it matters. Peña hit a low-lining double to center in the sixth and finished the game 1 for 4 with a walk and two runs scored.

"I thought he swung the bat good," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "It's human nature on your first day to come in with a new team and want to do good."

Peña admitted that he got in a couple of good swings but said the power will come as he grows more comfortable with his surroundings. The team acquired him in a trade Friday with the Boston Red Sox.

Rather, the hitters in the order behind Peña were the ones who provided the team's punch. Three of the Nationals' four runs came off the bats of their 7-8-9 hitters. Nook Logan went 1 for 2 with a double and an RBI, his 12th of the season. Jesus Flores and even starting pitcher John Lannan also drove in runs.

But Lannan's night on the mound was more suspect than his hitting. He went 5 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits and a walk.

"There were some situations where I didn't make the best pitches I could have," Lannan said. "That came back and hurt us."

Compounding Lannan's problems on the mound was a pesky Jose Reyes on the base paths. The Mets' shortstop stole third base in the third inning on a throw Flores was sure made it on time. It did, but third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's tag swung over Reyes's body. Reyes was called safe, and he would later score to tie the game at 2.

In the fifth, Lannan tried to pick off Reyes at second base, but again the runner was deemed safe. Second baseman Ronnie Belliard protested, as did Acta, but it was no use. Reyes got away yet again.

"It's frustrating at times," Lannan said. "He's always on the move. You never know what he's going to do."

After allowing Luis Castillo to hit his first home run since July 16, 2006, in the first inning, Lannan settled down. Through four innings, the left-hander had allowed two runs, despite errors by Zimmerman and shortstop Felipe Lopez.

Lannan began to tire in the fifth inning, allowing three consecutive hits that turned into two Mets runs. In the sixth, Lannan gave up a single to Damion Easley, who took second on a wild pitch but pulled up lame in the process. He left the game with a third-degree sprain in his left ankle. Shawn Green entered as a pinch runner and advanced to third on a passed ball.

Though Nationals starting pitchers have struggled the past two games, Acta at least can take solace in knowing his rotation soon may receive a boost. Right-hander Jason Bergmann threw six scoreless innings last night at Toledo for Class AAA Columbus. In his third rehab start since going on the disabled list July 27 with left hamstring tightness, Bergmann allowed no runs, one walk and four hits. He recorded six strikeouts in 84 pitches.

Right-handed reliever Jesus Colome followed Bergmann and recorded two strikeouts in one scoreless inning. He went on the disabled list June 24 with a soft-tissue infection in his right leg and was recalled to the major league club following last night's game. Outfielder Ryan Langerhans, who was batting .153, was designated for assignment.

While the starting rotation slowly gains back pitchers from the injured list, it will be up to young arms such as Lannan to hold ground. It also will be up to the team's big hitters, such as Zimmerman, Young, Austin Kearns and the newly acquired Peña, to produce runs in the absence of good pitching.

"I've got a little pop," Peña said. "I just have to use it in the game."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company