By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; D01
NEW YORK -- At a meeting on Wednesday, members of Washington Nationals' coaching staff were in agreement: Roger Bernadina was due to break out.
In 41 games over the past three seasons, Bernadina, a 25-year-old rookie, had difficulty figuring out major league pitching. But Manager Jim Riggleman predicted on Wednesday morning Bernadina would hit a double and a triple that afternoon. Those expectations fell short.
In the Nationals' 6-4 win over the New York Mets, Bernadina played highlight-reel defense and bashed the first two home runs of his career, including a two-run, game-winning shot in the ninth inning.
"He's made some strides," General Manager Mike Rizzo said of Bernadina. "You keep thinking he's getting close and close and close, and today he showed a flash of what he could be."
A long-awaited prospect since he signed with the Montreal Expos in 2001, Bernadina might not have trumpeted his arrival with the performance, but he certainly announced his presence before a crowd of 33,024 at misty Citi Field.
Bernadina hit a solo shot in the fourth inning. With two outs in the ninth, he lashed a two-run home run on a belt-high fastball from Francisco Rodriguez. The blast landed in the bullpen in right-center field.
Also, with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Bernadina made a remarkable face-first, diving grab at the warning track that ended the inning and prevented a Mets rally.
"Today, things worked well," said Bernadina, who donned the silver Elvis wig for his first time as the player of the game. "I had a good day today."
A day after slipping in the standings, the Nationals (19-15) will leave here with sole possession of second place in the National League East.
For Washington, it was a crucial series win over its division rival, part of a stretch of 20 games in as many days. It is the first time since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005 that the Nationals have defeated the Mets (18-16) in two series in New York.
But yet it was not a memorable day for Washington starter Craig Stammen -- at least not from the mound.
Stammen struggled with his command and was removed after fraying in the fifth inning. He allowed four runs and six hits, with four walks and two strikeouts in his five innings.
Mets starter Mike Pelfrey threw 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs and seven hits, with three walks and six strikeouts.
Instead, Stammen made his mark at the plate, driving in a career-high three runs, the most ever in a game by a Nationals pitcher. (Guillermo Mota hit a three-run homer on June 9, 1999, as a reliever with the Expos in a win over the Boston Red Sox.)
"It kept me in the game; it kept met from getting a loss today," Stammen said of his performance at the plate. "Guess that's why we don't have a DH in the National League."
In the second inning, Stammen pulled a two-run single down the third base line to score Adam Dunn and Cristian Guzm?n. Stammen drove in another run in the fourth, slapping a single that skipped past the Mets' infielders as Wil Nieves scored, giving the Nationals a 4-2 lead.
Stammen's shaky start put reliever Tyler Clippard in position for his seventh win, a mark that leads the majors. Clippard pitched one flawless inning in the eighth with the score tied at 4-4.
Asked to estimate his final win total, Clippard replied with a smile and lighthearted humor. "I'll say 40 to 45," Clippard said. "Why not?"
But the day was highlighted by Bernadina's display. A rangy athlete with a powerful bat, he appears to have all the tools, but he missed time last year with a broken ankle.
When he was recalled from Class AAA Syracuse on April 27, Bernadina was one of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues. But in the majors, he has had difficulty identifying pitches to hit.
More recently, he said, he has started to feel confidence. The Nationals have in essence made Bernadina their everyday right fielder, except when facing left-handed hitters. And with his impressive show here, perhaps Bernadina has turned a corner.
"It's one game; it's not a breakout," Riggleman said. "But it could be the start of something good."