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No need for protest; Padres write down wrong pitcher, Nationals make right one pay

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Matt Capps watched the first inning Friday night on television from the Washington Nationals clubhouse, and he figured out quickly what had happened after the top half of the inning. The San Diego Padres had made a strange error, penciling in the wrong starting pitcher -- a pitcher who had been jettisoned to the minors -- on their official lineup card. The Nationals filed a protest.

As the scene unfolded, Capps turned to a teammate back in the clubhouse. "Let's take it out of their hands," he said. "Go win and don't worry about it."

In the end, the protest almost mattered more than the Nationals wanted it to. Controlling the game throughout thanks to Josh Willingham's power and John Lannan's pitching, the Nationals won, 5-3, only after Capps loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth and then squirmed out of the jam.

The Nationals could have won no matter what happened before 23,468 at Petco Park. But they also knew their protest had virtually no chance of coming through, that they would have to really beat the Padres to climb back above .500. So they went and won and didn't worry about it.

"I'm just really glad we won the game so we didn't have to go through that," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "That protest would not have held up."

Capps saved it in the ninth with more drama than the Nationals preferred. Yorvit Torrealba led off with a with a single, and Oscar Salazar followed with a slow grounder up the middle. Ian Desmond tried to flip the ball with his glove to second baseman Cristian Guzman but came up short, missing the chance for a likely out at first base. Jerry Hairston followed with a 60-foot single to third.

Suddenly, the Padres had the winning at the plate with no outs. Chris Denorfia didn't win it, but he drove home a run with a single to center. Pitching coach Steve McCatty came to the mound for a chat, and slugging pinch-hitter Matt Stairs came to the plate.

Here, Capps tapped the remarkable reservoir of faith he has in his own pitches. When he puts men on base, he just thinks, "Get a double play." There is no worry in his arsenal. There wasn't any even when he went 3-2 to Stairs and catcher Wil Nieves called for a slider.

Last year, Capps yielded a home run to Stairs in a similar situation on a fastball. He will usually live and die with his fastball, but with Nieves offering the slider Capps nodded in agreement. "You got to do something," Capps said. "They were hitting the heater."

Stairs, expecting a fastball as Capps assumed, looked at the third strike. Capps struck out Will Venable. He induced a chopper by David Eckstein to Ryan Zimmerman. Crisis averted, save No. 17 in the books, Capps hopped off the mound, pumped his fist and gave Nieves a wicked high five.

Before any of that, the Padres provided a bizarre subplot. The Padres listed Adam Russell. That might have been okay if Russell was not a right-handed reliever who had been sent to Class AAA Portland earlier in the day. Left-handed starter Clayton Richard, the scheduled starter all along, in fact took the mound. He retired the Nationals in order.

After the top of the first, Padres Manager Bud Black alerted the home plate umpire of his gaffe. Each manager met with the entire umpiring crew.

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