By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Maybe Half Street should be renamed Yawkey Way. Maybe Ben's Chili Bowl should be replaced with an Italian sausage vendor, or a place to grab a cup of chowda. If Nationals Park were not so void of history, it would have felt like Fenway Park last night. At times, it certainly sounded like it.
In front of a crowd packed with Boston fans, the Red Sox made themselves at home in Washington, dispatching the Nationals, 11-3, to strike an emphatic tone at the beginning of this three-game series.
It was an unnatural night in Southeast Washington -- aided by the Red Sox faithful, Nationals Park hosted a record crowd of 41,517 -- but the Nationals' bullpen again blew up its team's chances and displayed for the out-of-town fans one of the main perpetrators in a season of misery.
"It was a typical example of what got us where we're at now," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said, adding, "It was tough."
The Nationals (20-48) needed three pitchers to escape the eighth inning. But the damage had been inflicted on the scoreboard by the time they emerged. The Red Sox battered Washington's relievers for six runs in the eighth, rendering a 4-3 game a foregone conclusion before the home team had a chance to bat in the bottom half of the inning.
After the game, Acta suggested the Nationals might need to shake up the bullpen to solve the issues that have bogged it down. Washington is in search of a reliable option among relievers Joel Hanrahan, Kip Wells and Jesús Colome.
"Somebody has to step up out of those three guys," Acta said.
Boston (43-27) banged a season-high 17 hits off of Washington's pitchers, thanks largely to the disastrous eighth inning. It ended up one of those statistic-skewing nights for several of the Red Sox:
-- Jason Bay: 4 for 6 with one home run and three RBI.
-- Jacoby Ellsbury: 4 for 4 with three RBI.
-- Kevin Youkilis: 2 for 5 with two RBI.
-- Dustin Pedroia: 3 for 6 with two runs.
"This team, they smell blood," Hanrahan said of the Red Sox. "You give them one they're going to jump all over it."
And Boston had the backing of plenty of onlookers. There were crowds gathered outside the stadium yesterday afternoon. Once the gates opened at 5:30 p.m., fans flooded in and bounded down the stairs toward the front row. It was a scene that has been scarcely witnessed before a Nationals home game. The fans cheered with verve, but not always for Washington.
"It's Red Sox Nation, I guess," said Nationals starter John Lannan, who allowed three runs on nine hits with three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. "They follow them. That's what you get."
Lannan was not sharp -- his fastball was up in the zone, so he had to rely on his change-up -- but he battled enough to keep Washington close for much of the night. The Nationals were down 4-3 heading into the eighth.
The Nationals scored with two out in the first inning, when Adam Dunn doubled down the first base line to score Ryan Zimmerman, who snapped his 0-for-17 skid. Washington scored again in the fourth when Brad Penny's 0-2 wild pitch with the bases loaded allowed Zimmerman to score from third base. And Willie Harris made the score 3-3 with a double to drive in Josh Bard in the sixth inning.
That was before things disintegrated. And the blame for that fell squarely on the bullpen, which simply fell to pieces in the eighth.
Rocco Baldelli led off with a hard-hit line drive to left field. It was an ominous harbinger. Soon, Ron Villone was out of the game. Wells was in. Soon, Wells was out. Colome was in. It made no difference. Bay singled to score Baldelli and J.D. Drew. Jason Varitek singled to score Youkilis. Ellsbury tripled to score Bay and Varitek. And then Nick Green singled in Ellsbury.
In recent weeks, the Nationals bullpen had taken form. In fact, it looked downright impressive on certain nights. Before last night, the relievers had posted a 3.50 ERA in 19 games since May 29. The Red Sox issued a reminder that Washington's bullpen also led the major leagues with 23 losses entering the night.
It was an ugly eighth inning. It continued in the ninth inning, when Youkilis doubled to score Pedroia. That was enough to send many spectators home early. Not even the Red Sox fans, who had been out in full force all day, needed to stick around to see the end of this one.