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This Could Be the Start of a Beautiful Rivalry

Felipe López and the Nationals opened their "Beltway Rivalry" series vs. the Orioles with a 4-2 win Friday. 35,830 fans showed up at Nationals Park, the most since Opening Night.
Felipe López and the Nationals opened their "Beltway Rivalry" series vs. the Orioles with a 4-2 win Friday. 35,830 fans showed up at Nationals Park, the most since Opening Night. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, June 29, 2008; Page D02

For the first time in the four years since Bud Selig allowed a "Beltway Rivalry" between Washington and Baltimore to exist, there was excitement before an Orioles-Nationals game -- not Mets-Yankees excitement, of course, but at least some tension throughout the stands Friday night at Nationals Park.

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Maybe it was the largest crowd (35,830) since Opening Night at the new ballpark. Or the division of fans of both teams: The surprising Orioles with a 40-38 record and the struggling, injury-riddled Nats, at 32-49, now hoping to avoid losing 100 games.

Orioles fans composed more than a third of the crowd, many in orange shirts, including some with a sour look that said, "You really never deserved a team." Nats fans, some arriving late, stayed nine innings for a change.

"We want to get this rivalry going," Mark Lerner, one of the Nationals' owners, said after watching his team prevail, 4-2, on the strength of pinch hitter Kory Casto's tiebreaking double in the seventh and closer Jon Rauch's escape act in the ninth after the Orioles put their first two hitters on base.

"All I want our guys to do is play hard, make everyone aware that this is a team," said Nats Manager Manny Acta, whose closed-door meeting with players before Wednesday's game sounded like the speech by the skipper in "Bull Durham": "Baseball is a simple game; you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball."

Whatever Acta said resulted in at least a couple of wins for the Nats, whose president, Stan Kasten, lamented the team's injuries.

"We don't have our team," Kasten said, adding "at least our young kids who are our future keep showing up."

Casto is one of those kids who at 26 has been the club's minor league player of the year in 2005 and 2006 but has mostly struggled (batting around .200) at the big-league level. His game-winning double Friday followed a three-run homer that beat Seattle on June 15.

"Pinch hitting is difficult," he said. "You sit there the whole game, get one shot at someone throwing 92-mph, and if you fail, that's it for the night. This one was big. Big for the team."

"This was great," Lerner said. "New stadium, big crowd, fans cheering for both teams. Good game, too, with a good result."

Stargazing

News flash: International soccer star David Beckham's second visit to Washington with the Los Angeles Galaxy lacks the celebrity buzz he created with his first visit here last August. That's what the Reliable Sourcers, Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, reported in Friday's Washington Post.

"So far, it's been crickets in the street," IndeBleu owner Mark Gunderson told The Source. Gunderson's D.C. nightclub hosted one of the three parties for Becks and the beautiful people (sans Feinstein) last summer as the prince of English soccer made his D.C. debut with the Galaxy, a 1-0 loss to United before a near sellout crowd of 46,686 fans at RFK Stadium.


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