By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008
Only time will tell if the New York Mets allow themselves to repeat last year's epic collapse. But on Thursday night, they made one thing clear. If the Mets fade away again, the Washington Nationals will have nothing to do with it. Not this time.
New York cruised past Washington, 7-2, before 25,426 on a cool evening at Nationals Park, bouncing back from a pair of disconcerting losses to salvage a split in the four-game series.
When the Nationals took the first two games of the series, it instantly triggered comparisons to last season, when Washington played a major role in the Mets' stunning late-season fade. But New York regrouped to batter Nationals pitching for the second consecutive night, ensuring that Washington's cameo in meaningful games would lack the drama of last year.
At game's end, as the locals made their way through the ballpark's wide aisles, a relieved contingent of Mets supporters remained in front of their seats to give their team a standing ovation as they trotted to their dugout.
"You go up 2-0 in a four-game series against a rival, regardless of whether they're in the playoff race or not, you're not satisfied with the split," said Nationals starting pitcher Tim Redding, who took the loss. "You want to win the series."
Former Nationals Brian Schneider and Ryan Church played a big role. Schneider hit a pair of solo homers into the Nationals' bullpen, his first multi-homer game in five years, while Church added a pair of RBI singles.
With the victory, the Mets remained a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East while opening a 1 1/2 -game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card race.
With the loss, Washington fell for the seventh time in its last nine games.
"If you're not on the top of your game, they're going to hit you around," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "They did that."
In the first two games against New York, Nationals pitchers surrendered just two runs, mostly because they contained the most dangerous part of the Mets' lineup. Through two games, Carlos Beltrán and Carlos Delgado combined for no hits and a walk.
But over the last two games, the duo banged out six hits and knocked in six runs, including three homers. Even though the Nationals limited David Wright to just one hit for the entire series -- "We handcuffed him all series," Redding said -- the Mets had plenty of firepower to torment the Nationals.
Redding came into the game hoping to notch his career-high 11th victory, a reachable milestone partly because the Nationals' offense has generally treated him well this season. Redding had received 5.72 runs per nine innings, the best run support among those in the Nationals' rotation.
But against Mets left-hander Johan Santana -- Redding's former minor league teammate -- the Nationals managed just one despite collecting eight hits during his seven innings.
The Nationals finally got to Santana in the seventh when Anderson Hernández doubled home Wil Nieves. But Cristian Guzmán barely missed out on what would have been a three-run homer -- the ball sailed wide of the left field foul pole -- and Santana finished the inning with no further damage.
Still, Redding failed to do his part, paying for spotty command by allowing four earned runs on seven hits in his three innings.
"Those guys are a momentum team," said Redding, fresh off his shortest start of the season. "They get something going for them, they just feed off of it, from top to bottom."
Redding faced trouble from the start, when José Reyes led off the game with a double down the left field line. Daniel Murphy followed with a line-drive single to center that Lastings Milledge misplayed.
Milledge stopped in his path before making a futile attempt to dive at the ball. The ball rolled to the wall, Reyes scored easily and Murphy pulled into third.
"I thought I had a shot, but I didn't," Milledge said.
Acta defended the outfielder, whose defense has come under scrutiny at various points this season.
"It happens to every center fielder in the game," Acta said. "At one point, you're going to see a line drive like that right at him."
But from there, things only got worse for the Nationals and Redding, who fell to 0-2 this year in head-to-head matchups against Santana.