Houston Astros Beat Washington Nationals, 9-4, in Regularly Scheduled Game

Cristian Guzmán loses the ball on Michael Bourn's fourth-inning single.
Cristian Guzmán loses the ball on Michael Bourn's fourth-inning single. (By Pat Sullivan -- Associated Press)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 10, 2009

HOUSTON, July 9 -- For all he gives them at the plate -- a patient approach and a prodigious power stroke -- the Washington Nationals know that life with Adam Dunn is a trade-off. Mostly, because he has all the outfield range of an oak tree.

Often, his defense costs them bases. And that's just on the good nights. Thursday, Dunn's defensive deficiencies -- unsightly, probably costly -- were again on naked display, most painfully during the big inning that engineered the Houston Astros' 9-4 rallying victory against the Nationals at Minute Maid Park.

Dunn's defense, granted, wasn't the only problem. John Lannan got knocked around, the offense couldn't build on its early-inning productivity, and Cristian Guzmán continued to play shortstop as if wearing dumbbells instead of cleats. Still, until Washington's pitchers somehow invent a way to direct every batted ball toward center fielder Nyjer Morgan, they must confront the fact that Dunn is a liability.

"It is what it is," Manager Manny Acta said. "I don't know why you keep bringing that up. We didn't bring Dunn over here to play defense. He is what he is, and we love the 40 home runs and the 100-something RBIs he's going to bring. Because we didn't have that here. I can't ask Dunn to play outfield like Nyjer Morgan plays it."

Until the sixth inning in this series opener, all was going well. The Nationals had jumped out to a lead by feasting on erratic Houston starter Russ Ortiz, who demonstrated a keen affection for walks and three-ball counts. Washington was already ahead 1-0 in the first -- thanks to a Nick Johnson single, a wild pitch, a catcher's throwing error and a Ryan Zimmerman RBI single -- when Dunn came to the plate. Dunn worked a 3-1 count, then walloped a double against the base of the wall in left-center, near the 362 feet sign, scoring Zimmerman.

The Nationals scored two more runs against Ortiz in the third, and Lannan, despite not having his best stuff, carried an advantage into the top of the sixth. At least for a few minutes.

To open the bottom of the sixth, as the Nationals led 4-2, Iván Rodríguez knocked a double against the left field wall. The next hitter, Geoff Blum, flopped a grounder up the middle -- in just the spot where only a good shortstop can get it, which is why Guzmán didn't get it. Guzmán slid, trapped the ball, and couldn't rise to make a throw. Lannan, unraveling, faced one more hitter, one too many to protect the lead. Jeff Keppinger sent the lefty's 97th pitch of the game on a long, rolling journey to the right-center gap, a game-tying triple.

So Lannan was gone, replaced by Jason Bergmann. Keppinger stood on third with no outs.

Bergmann struck out pinch hitter Jason Michaels with three consecutive sliders, all buried low and away. That, however, only set the stage for Michael Bourn.

Houston's center fielder skied a 2-1 pitch to deep left. But he sure didn't hit it as deep as Dunn made it look. Dunn played the ball as if it were a sure-fire homer; he fixed a forward-gaze on the infield, not even turning for a potential carom off the wall.

Well, Bourn's ball caromed. It kicked off the wall, and soon, Dunn was chasing it back toward the infield, running a good 75 feet for it. Bourn had an RBI triple; Houston had a 5-4 lead, which would extend to 6-4 when the next hitter, Miguel Tejada, poked a flair several feet in front of a soft-charging Dunn.

Later, Dunn said his posturing on the Bourn triple was an attempted deke. Asked if he initially assumed the ball was a homer, he said: "No. I didn't want him to be running hard out of the box, because I knew it was going to hit off the wall. So I kind of tried to deke him a little bit. It just hit [the wall] and took off."

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