Reality Hits Nationals In Second Home Game

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

After a hectic three-day visit to their new digs, the Washington Nationals spent the first week of the season on the road, familiarizing themselves with the reality that is the baseball season. They returned last night to Nationals Park, trying to make it feel something like home, not some too-good-to-be-true amusement park.

What they found was a crowd announced at 20,487, a bit of a chill, and the Florida Marlins, not the most welcoming environment. In the second regular season game ever at the new park, the fans failed to fill half the seats, and the Nationals failed to reward those who braved the briskness. They dropped their fifth straight, an at-times-ugly 10-7 decision to the first-place Marlins, who received three hits and three RBI from Hanley Ramírez, their dynamo of a shortstop.

The Nationals, in each game of this skid, have been right there, losing three times by one, twice by three. But that is no longer the goal, not according to Manager Manny Acta.

"Losing every day by one run is not a good sign," Acta said. "It's a sign, sometimes, of bad clubs, because it means that you made an error -- whether it's a physical or mental error -- during the ballgame that helps you lose by one."

So tick off those offenses, for they are many. Lastings Milledge, the center fielder, drove in three runs, but he also dropped a routine fly ball in the first, which led directly to the Marlins' first run. Cristian Guzmán, the shortstop, tripled twice and drove in three runs, but he also committed a crucial error in the third, an inning that Ramírez capped with a three-run homer off Nationals starter Tim Redding, who was charged with six runs, just one of them earned.

"We know we got to play mistake-free baseball," Milledge said, "and that wasn't a good way to start off the game."

And, then, there is Redding, who said sternly, "Back off the defense." Redding was in position to get out of the five-run third without a run. Runners on second and third, eighth-place hitter Alfredo Amézaga at the plate, pitcher Andrew Miller on deck.

"If you want to talk about an error, talk about the 2-2 pitch to Amézaga with first base open and two outs," Redding said. "That's the biggest error of the game. That cost us the game. That's on my shoulders."

Redding was supposed to throw a fastball off the plate inside, pitching around Amézaga to get to Miller. Instead, he got too much of the plate, and Amézaga lined a two-run double to right. Miller, who hadn't put a ball in play in his career, followed with an infield single, and that led to Ramírez's home run.

"Those are the kind of mistakes that lately are hurting us," Acta said of the pitch to Amézaga.

At the plate, the Nationals' third-, fourth- and fifth-place hitters -- Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns -- managed one hit in 11 at-bats. And in the seventh and eighth innings, trailing by one, they left the bases loaded. That would be nine times in their first eight games they have accomplished that feat. For good measure, in their three-run fourth, they stranded men on second and third. They left 11 men on overall, the third time they have stranded that many this season.

"For us to win and be successful, we can't let opportunities slip away," Kearns said. "That's what good teams do, they take advantage of those spots."

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