Rangers 8, Nationals 1
The old-timers could think back and remember the connections, how Ted Williams was the last manager in Washington and the first in Texas, how Frank Howard slugged homers at RFK Stadium, then brought his giant bats to the prairie and tried to do the same thing. Thirty-four years ago, the Washington Senators moved here to become the Texas Rangers. A generation later, that move set up the current baseball revival in Washington.
Of all the players who took to Ameriquest Field on Friday night, 40-year-old Kenny Rogers was perhaps the only one with even a shot at remembering that transaction. Heck, sometimes it seems like he might have even been one of the original Rangers.
Rogers, though, looked very much in his prime against the Senators' replacements, the Washington Nationals, allowing just one run in 61/3 innings in the Rangers' 8-1 victory, a win powered by 15 hits, including solo home runs from Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench.
The loss was the first-place Nationals' second in their last 14 games, but it allowed the Philadelphia Phillies to climb within 11/2 games in the National League East.
It came at the expense of starter John Patterson, who allowed four runs in just five innings and suffered his first loss since his first start of the season -- on April 10 in Florida. The Rangers tagged relievers T.J. Tucker, who left with soreness in his elbow, and Gary Majewski for four runs in the eighth.
"The mistakes we made," catcher Gary Bennett said, "they hit."
The Nationals couldn't make the same claim against the lefty Rogers, who allowed eight hits but never seemed in serious danger in improving to 9-2. As Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said, Rogers "did what he always does well," and that's throw off-speed stuff that tails off the plate.
"He goes out there and does the same thing every time," Texas catcher Rod Barajas said. "He hits corners. If he walks somebody, he's just going to try to get a double play."
Which, at the one key moment of the game, the Rangers got. It came when the Nationals were still in it, trailing 4-1 in the seventh. Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman had just hit his second home run of the year. Yes, you read that correctly. Feel free to sit down and take a deep breath. Guzman ripped a 1-0 pitch from Rogers some 420 feet to center field, part of a 2-for-4 night that raised his average to .205.
"I feel more comfortable," Guzman said.
That shocking development aside, Marlon Byrd followed with a one-out single, and Nick Johnson drew a walk on a check swing, one in which Rogers thought he had a strikeout. Instead, it was his final pitch. Rangers Manager Buck Showalter brought in veteran right-hander John Wasdin -- called up from the minors earlier in the week -- to face the right-handed hitting Vinny Castilla.
It didn't take long for the strategy to work. Castilla swung at the first pitch. The result: an easy 5-4-3 double play.
"There's nothing wrong with swinging at the first pitch . . .," Robinson said. "The only time we notice that is when you're not successful."
The Nationals were in that position in part because right fielder Jose Guillen sat because he was sick, leaving Washington with Castilla (4 for his last 26) hitting cleanup and Wil Cordero (1 for 20 on the season) batting fifth. And they were in that position, too, because Patterson, who had allowed just one run in each of his last three starts, threw 48 pitches in the first two innings -- and felt it
"You go out there and you go 1-2-3 and throw 12 pitches, it sets a completely different tempo and pace for the game," Patterson said. "I had runners on the whole time. You're just using a lot of pitches and setting that tempo for the game. That's hard to overcome."
The Nationals couldn't overcome it. Worse, they enter the remaining two games a bit thin. Robinson said it's possible Tucker could go on the disabled list. "We need healthy bodies," he said. And Majewski -- who said he was distracted by the fact that his grandfather is in the hospital with heart problems and is scheduled for angioplasty -- will have today off, too, having given up three hits and a run in just two-thirds of an inning.
Yet there were no signs of surrender in the hot Texas night. The Nationals lost the first game of this road trip in Anaheim, 11-1, then won the next two.
"They hit us all over the field," Majewski said. "The next two days, it's back to business. We're right where we need to be."