It should have ended the first inning, except the ball continued to soar away from Houston Astros center fielder Willy Taveras. Carlos Baerga practically conceded the third out as he lightly jogged to first base, thinking Taveras would grab his seemingly routine fly ball -- and the Washington Nationals, as they have done so often in recent weeks, would let another scoring opportunity disappear like an ice cube on hot asphalt.
But something strange happened on Baerga's way to first. Taveras grossly misjudged the ball, charging in when it obviously was headed a greater distance. Taveras clumsily backpedaled and the ball dropped, and Baerga galloped toward second for a bases-clearing double. Baerga then pointed toward the sky.
It had to be divine intervention.
"I think it was like that, 'Angels in the Outfield,' the movie," Baerga said with a laugh.
Baerga would have more to be thankful for the rest of the night. With regular third baseman Vinny Castilla's gimpy left knee forcing him to the sideline again, Baerga replaced Castilla's big stick and slick glove during a 4-2 win that ended a three-game losing streak for the Nationals. Baerga finished 2 for 4 with three RBI and also showed that his 36-year-old legs still had some giddy-up during a less-than-graceful jaunt toward home.
When catcher Brian Schneider stroked a single up the middle, Baerga exploded toward home with a wild, goofy dash, feet bouncing off the ground as if he were running in quicksand as he rounded third base. Taveras's throw was on time, but slightly off target. Astros catcher Humberto Quintero leaned left to field the ball and lunged right but he could not get his mitt on the pudgy yet elusive Baerga, who slid awkwardly under the tag to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead.
"He was getting those little, short, chopping steps going," Nationals first baseman Brad Wilkerson said, laughing. "His strides are about six inches long. His foot might be longer than his stride, I don't know."
The Nats have no room to be about aesthetics. They need results. And, Baerga has been one been one of the few Nationals that may not want to see July end. He is hitting .306 with a home run and six RBI this month. He has just 13 RBI this season.
"I just say before, when I get more at-bats in a row, I feel more comfortable at the plate," he said. "I feeling comfortable out there, and I thank [Manager Frank Robinson] for giving me the opportunity to go in there and show that I can still play."
The bottom of the first inning could have sent the Nationals sinking further as bad luck continued. Right fielder Jose Guillen smacked a line drive to left field that would have easily scored leadoff hitter Brad Wilkerson if it hadn't bounded into the bullpen -- and off the head of relief pitcher Sun Woo Kim -- for a ground-rule double.
When Ryan Church failed to plate Wilkerson with a pop-up to Astros second baseman Craig Biggio for the second out of the inning, the Nationals looked as if they would leave two more runners stranded in scoring position. Cleanup hitter Preston Wilson walked, loading the bases, and Baerga slapped his weak fly ball to center field. "We got a break," Wilkerson said, "but we needed one."