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Nationals Are Swept In St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Randy Flores, left, is congratulated by Adam Kennedy after their 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals' in their baseball game Saturday, April 5, 2008, in St. Louis. Flores picked up his first save in the win. (AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)
St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Randy Flores, left, is congratulated by Adam Kennedy after their 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals' in their baseball game Saturday, April 5, 2008, in St. Louis. Flores picked up his first save in the win. (AP Photo/Kyle Ericson) (Kyle Ericson - AP)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008

ST. LOUIS, April 6 -- As soon as Paul Lo Duca made contact -- and that term applies to how his bat hit the ball only nominally -- his frustration was evident. It was just the second inning of what became a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals -- a result that completed a three-game weekend sweep of the Washington Nationals -- but Lo Duca immediately understood the ramifications of his first at-bat Sunday.

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One out, Nationals trailing 1-0, Austin Kearns on third.

"It's automatic," Lo Duca said. "You just hit a groundball right there and get the run in."

Lo Duca, instead, popped it up. When Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols settled under it, Lo Duca screamed in frustration -- a bellow audible throughout Busch Stadium, even with a sun-soaked crowd of 41,912 on hand. Never mind that it was just one out in St. Louis right-hander Kyle Lohse's effective seven-inning performance. Never mind that Cardinals center fielder and erstwhile pitcher Rick Ankiel killed the Nationals with an RBI double, a solo homer and a diving catch. Forget, too, that 14 Nationals went down in order from the fifth through the ninth, making a comeback impossible.

For a clubhouse that hasn't had a winning season since baseball returned to Washington, Lo Duca adds a new element. The theme Sunday -- from Manager Manny Acta on down -- was that the four-game losing streak the Nationals bring to the District for their first true homestand at Nationals Park is of little consequence.

"It's too early," Acta said.

"We're seven games in," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We'll be all right."

Lo Duca, though, isn't beyond getting in the faces of teammates, nor is he unwilling to fall on the sword when he deserves it himself. His at-bat in the second may or may not have changed the game. But it clearly bothered him even as the Nationals packed their bags for the flight home.

"[Expletive]-poor effort," he said. "Just [expletive]-poor. It's just a terrible at-bat. Set the tone for the game. It's terrible. I'm better than that."

Felipe López followed Lo Duca's popup with a groundout, and Lohse -- a free agent signed for the bargain price of $3.5 million -- never allowed more than one base runner in an inning. That was plenty enough to outduel Nationals left-hander John Lannan, who was quite solid in his season debut -- just the seventh start of his major league career -- in tossing 6 2/3 innings in which Ankiel's two hits provided the only runs.

"What else can you ask?" Acta said of Lannan.

Acta could, however, ask more from his offense, which managed five singles Sunday. After scoring 19 runs in three games in Philadelphia, the Nationals managed just eight runs in three games here. They are without outfielders Wily Mo Peña (strained oblique) and Elijah Dukes (strained hamstring), two hitters with power potential, the kind who might strike out three times but then hit a monstrous homer. As to whether the offense is suffering without them, Acta said, "We didn't say that when we were 3-0, so we're not going to start saying it now."


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