Nats Can't Quite Catch O's; Lose 6-5

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, May 19, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

Baltimore, MD--The Washington Nationals, finding themselves in a 6-2 hole entering the eighth inning, clawed their way back to within one run but could not get the final hit to push them over the hump as the Baltimore Orioles held on to defeat the Nats 6-5, in front of 32,622 at Baltimore's Camden Yards. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, O's reliever Jim Johnson struck out the season-long slumping Austin Kearns, who finished the at-bat by slamming his bat into the dirt around home plate in disgust. There would be no further comeback in the ninth inning.

As has been the story much of the first quarter of the season, the Nats offense couldn't get much going early, as Orioles starter Brian Burres threw six and two-third innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks. The Orioles struck early in the bottom of the first against Nats starter Odalis Perez. With one out, Melvin Mora doubled to left center and Nick Markakis singled through the box to drive Mora in. The Nats would tie it up in the second, as Dmitri Young singled, went to third on Aaron Boone's double, and scored on a ground out by Jesus Flores.

In the third, the Orioles would rally for three runs on five consecutive hits before an out could be recorded. Second baseman Brian Roberts started the hit parade, as he doubled to left just past Wily Mo Pena--a ball many outfielders would have caught. Roberts promptly stole third and scored on a Melvin Mora single. The next batter, Nick Markakis, delivered a no-doubt-about-it shot to deep center field that gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead. The Nats would halve the lead in the next inning, as Ryan Zimmerman hit his eighth home run of the season to left field.

The Orioles would close their scoring in the fifth, as Jay Payton hit a two-out, two-run home run to make the score 6-2. With the Nats struggling against Burres, it looked like that's all the scoring the Orioles would need. As it turned out, it was just enough.

The middle innings were pretty quiet for both teams, but the Nats would get into the Baltimore bullpen a little bit in the eighth. Chad Bradford relieved Burres, and he did not have his finest outing of the season. Wily Mo Pena singled to start the inning, but Felipe Lopez grounded to second, forcing Pena. Cristian Guzman followed with a single and Zimmerman grounded out, putting runners at second and third. At that point, Orioles Manager Dave Trembley summoned Dennis Sarfate, who immediately walked Dmitri Young to load the bases.

Aaron Boone delivered the first pitch he saw from Sarfate into left center, scoring Guzman and Zimmerman, cutting the lead to 6-4. Jim Johnson was called on to face catcher Wil Nieves, and Nieves fought two fouls balls off and finally coaxed a walk, loading the bases once again. Lastings Milledge was the next batter, and on a 1-1 pitch Johnson lost control and drilled Milledge in the left shoulder area, which forced in a run to make it 6-5. That is as close as the Nats would get though, as Kearns worked the count to 3-2 before striking out swinging and taking frustration out on his bat. Kearns went 0-for-4 on the night, lowering his batting average to .187 for the season.

In the ninth, Orioles closer George Sherrill easily sat down the Nats in order to register his league leading 17th save of the season.

Odalis Perez threw five innings, allowing six earned runs on ten hits and two walks, striking out two along the way. Joel Hanrahan pitched two scoreless innings, and Saul Rivera one inning, surrendering two hits but no runs.

Sunday is the finale of the three-game set. The Nats will send John Lannan (3-4, 3.74) to the hill against the O's Jeremy Guthrie (2-3, 4.18).

NATS NOTES: The loss sends the Nats' record to 18-26, seven games behind division-leading Florida. The Orioles are 23-19, just one and one-half games behind Tampa and Boston in the AL East.

Jesus Flores, the Nationals' starting catcher this evening, was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the sixth by home plate umpire Tim McClelland.

Nationals RHP Shawn Hill, Friday night's loser, had a cortisone shot in his right elbow on Saturday and hopes to make his next scheduled start against Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Photo (c) D. Nichols 2008