After a rough start and a late recovery, Nationals fall to Chicago Cubs in 10 innings

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; D01

CHICAGO -- The pennants above Wrigley Field whipped around all Monday afternoon, flapping in a frenzy as the blustery conditions breathed life into this city's moniker.

Although the wind negated two potential late home runs for the Chicago Cubs on Monday night, the gusts ultimately had no impact on the outcome. The Cubs didn't even need to lift their bats to defeat the Washington Nationals, as Nationals reliever Brian Bruney walked in the winning run in the 10th inning to give Chicago a 4-3 win before a chilly crowd of 37,850.

Bruney loaded the bases in the 10th, and with Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez at the plate, Bruney threw four straight balls to bring home Ryan Theriot for the winning run. Bruney narrowly missed on the pitches and appeared frustrated afterward.

"I try as hard as I can out there; it's not a lack-of-effort thing," said Bruney, who was credited with the loss. "I put this one on me."

In the eighth inning, the Nationals (10-10) appeared to get an assist from the wind, which whipped in 20-mph gusts and might have kept two potential Cubs' home runs from clear the wall.

"It was pretty tough conditions," Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham said.

Nationals starter John Lannan had an uncharacteristic performance, lacking crispness and command. In the second inning, he was lucky to allow just two runs after laboring to get through batters. Lannan allowed 3 runs and 5 hits and threw 5 walks in 6 innings.

In the second inning, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez scored center fielder Marlon Byrd on a double that soared into center field. With the bases loaded, Ramirez scored when Lannan walked his counterpart, Carols Silva, on four pitches to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.

"I fell apart in the second, and that can't happen," Lannan said. "My role is to start the game strong."

Lannan added: "I should be pitching better than that."

Through three innings, Lannan had thrown 53 pitches, an early effort that was shades of his last outing. On Wednesday, Lannan labored his way to a no-decision in the Nationals' win over the Colorado Rockies, allowing 12 base runners and 11 hits in 18 outs while also managing to navigate through trouble spots.

On Monday, Lannan settled down as the game progressed. He induced a 6-4-3 double play in the fourth inning. He had a 1-2-3 fifth inning. In the sixth inning, his only slip was a walk to Alfonso Soriano.

But Lannan's early command problems left a mark. "That's not John Lannan," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

Meanwhile, Silva effectively mixed his sinker and a change-up to give Washington's hitters trouble. Silva allowed 3 runs and 7 hits in 7 innings.

In the fourth inning, the Nationals got after Silva. Washington scored on a bases-loaded walk by Willingham (2 for 4) and then a sacrifice fly by third baseman Adam Kennedy, playing in place of Ryan Zimmerman, who was out with a sore right hamstring for a fifth-straight game. Zimmerman pinch hit in the ninth inning.

"It's a bad day for him because it's so cold and windy and whatnot," General Manager Mike Rizzo said of Zimmerman.

Washington made it a 3-3 game in the sixth inning thanks to a run-scoring single by catcher Wil Nieves, who drove in Willingham with a ground ball through center field. Nieves was added to the starting line up because Ivan Rodriguez complained of lower back tightness.

Chicago (10-10) appeared to seize the game late, before the swirling gales blew back what looked like winning hits.

To lead off the eighth inning, Derrek Lee crushed a 1-1 fastball from Nationals reliever Tyler Walker to the warning track in right field. Ramirez ended the inning by crushing an 0-1 fastball to the warning track in center field. The crowd clamored as each shot appeared to have the distance, only to groan when they fell short.

But in the 10th inning, neither the wind nor Bruney could deter the Cubs. Chicago loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. The Nationals seemed doomed once Marlon Byrd blooped a single to shallow left field. After that, Bruney issued four consecutive balls to Ramirez, giving the Cubs the victory before a home crowd in the very Windy City.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company