Nats Are Off Target in 2nd Straight Loss
Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 2
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005; Page D1
PHOENIX, May 11 -- The winning hit was a simple ground ball, well out of the reach of the 36-year-old second baseman who has very little range remaining in his piston-like legs. The right fielder came up firing, hoping to nail the runner at the plate, as he has a reputation for being able to do.
Yet after Chad Tracy's single in the bottom of the eighth scooted past Carlos Baerga, Jose Guillen's rocket home was well off-line, an error. Thus, Troy Glaus scored, and the Nationals' nine-game road trip ended much differently than it had started, with Guillen slumped on his knees in the outfield, glove at his side, the signature moment in a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.
"I make a good throw, we should be playing right now," Guillen said. "I make a bad throw. That's it."
Certainly, that's not everything that went into this loss, for there was a suddenly anemic offense against ex-Expo Javier Vazquez, a key error by Baerga and a run apiece allowed by relievers Hector Carrasco and Jon Rauch, who took the loss.
So the road trip that began with five wins in seven games ended with two straight losses to the Diamondbacks, a frustrating turn of events considering the starting pitchers in those two games -- Tony Armas Jr. and Claudio Vargas -- allowed just three earned runs in 1162/37 innings despite the fact neither had started a game all year. Any of the last three losses of the trip -- 4-3 in 13 innings to San Francisco on Sunday, and 3-2 to the Diamondbacks on Tuesday and Wednesday -- could have been wins, leaving some bitterness on the palate as the Nationals finally headed back east.
"The good things we did the first part of this trip, it just takes them and throws it out the window, really," Manager Frank Robinson said. "It's just not a good feeling going home losing these last two ballgames here."
Any good feelings from this one were provided by Vargas, who had made just one start since last June. He was never healthy in spring training, and went on the disabled list with a right elbow sprain on March 16. So even as the discussion about who would fit in the Nationals' rotation roiled -- Zach Day, John Patterson and Jon Rauch all battled for the fifth spot -- Vargas was largely forgotten. He began the season at Class AAA New Orleans, where he went 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA in five starts.
Wednesday, though, Vargas showed a fastball that approaches the mid-nineties. He also displayed something he hasn't, even in his finest moments -- pinpoint control. Last year, he averaged 4.9 walks per nine innings. Wednesday, he didn't walk a single batter, using an effective sinker.
"The hitters, they know I throw a straight fastball, and they're looking for that," Vargas said. "Now, I throw the sinker, and it's working."
He should have left with a 1-0 lead. The Diamondbacks' only run off him came in the fifth, when they loaded the bases on three singles. With one out, Alex Cintron hit a liner that third baseman Vinny Castilla speared. Castilla looked toward second and saw Vazquez dancing off the bag. He thought he could double him off.
"That's why I throw," Castilla said.
But Baerga couldn't handle the ball -- he said it may have glanced off Vazquez -- and it squirted into center field, an error on Baerga. Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder scored an unearned run, tying the game.
"It was a perfect throw," Baerga said.
The Nationals managed to retake the lead when Brian Schneider hit his second double of the day, and pinch hitter Tony Blanco -- who had only one previous at-bat on the road trip -- collected the first RBI of his major league career, singling up the middle.
Carrasco, though, walked the first man he faced in the eighth, Quinton McCracken, and Craig Counsell drove him in with a two-out single -- the first run Carrasco had allowed all year. Rauch allowed three straight singles in the ninth, the last by Tracy, drawing Guillen's throw home.
Considering the Nationals' offense -- four 1-2-3 innings -- three runs was plenty for Arizona. "All of a sudden, the last couple games," Robinson said, "we just can't hit."
That's how a road trip filled with promise ends with disappointment. Guillen, who went 2 for 12 in the Arizona series, took responsibility.
"Blame it on me the last two nights," Guillen said. "I've been [bad]. I've been there in those key situations. I should've thrown the guy out today. Even the best hitters go through slumps, and I've not been coming through the last few nights. That's why they got me here, to help this team to win. If I cannot come through in those clutch situations, I don't know."
© 2005 The Washington Post Company