Nats Fall in 4-3 Nail-Biter to Mets

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, August 13, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

Washington -- When pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans homered off of two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana in the bottom of the seventh inning last night, it looked like the Washington Nationals were right back in it, having tied the game at three runs apiece. But just as quickly as the Nats evened things up, they let things get away, as the New York Mets used two singles, a walk and a hit batter to re-take the lead, and held on to defeat the Nationals 4-3 before a decidedly split crowd of 32,186 at Nationals Park Tuesday night.

The top of the eighth inning proved to be the crucial portion of last night's game. To that point, starter Odalis Perez and reliever Steven Shell combined to hold the Mets line-up to three runs on eight hits over seven innings. Manager Manny Acta, who would have a busy inning, summoned much-used and normally reliable Saul Rivera to pitch the eighth, by-passing ousted set-up man Luis Ayala, who has struggled much of the season and particularly of late. Rivera started the inning allowing back-to-back singles to Mets 3B David Wright and CF Carlos Beltran. After striking out 1B Carlos Delgado, Rivera faced LF Fernando Tatis in a pivotal play. Rivera got Tatis in a 3-2 count and appeared to have struck out Tatis on a attempted checked swing. First base umpire Mike Reilly waived his arms across his chest with the familiar "safe" call however, deciding that in fact Tatis did check his swing and awarded him first base, loading the bases in the process.

That brought Mets 2B Damion Easley to the plate. Easley took a strike and swung through the second pitch to go 0-2. Rivera (L, 3-5, 3.51) then wasted one for ball one, then tried to come inside with a breaking ball that didn't break, and the ball glanced off the top of Easley's batting helmet, forcing in the deciding run. Acta came out to argue, vociferously, that the ball hit the bat first on the play and that the play should have been called a foul ball. But after deliberating with all four umpires, home plate umpire Rob Drake concluded that his first call was the correct one, and replays after the game confirmed his decision. Acta spent a few moments arguing, his most animated display all season, probably stemming from the missed check swing and a close play on the bases that went against the Nats earlier in the game. It was to no avail, though, and Acta managed to not get tossed for his display.

"I just thought the ball hit the bat, but they got it right," Acta said. "It is the human element of the game."

But after the way the Nats went quietly in the eighth and ninth innings against the beleaguered Mets bullpen, maybe he wished he had said the "magic word" and earned his first ejection of the season.

Nats starter Odalis Perez went six innings and allowed three earned runs on eight hits and one walk, striking out five. Steven Shell and Joel Hanrahan both pitched a scoreless inning. Johan Santana went seven innings and gave up three earned runs on eight hits and two walks to earn his tenth win of the season, running his record to 10-7, 2.89. He has not lost since June 27. Pedro Feliciano threw a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season for the Mets.

Game two of the three-game series is Wednesday night at 7:10 pm. Jason Bergmann (2-8, 4.13) faces John Maine (9-7, 4.13) for the Metropolitans.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops Washington's record to 44-76, 20.5 games behind division leading Philadelphia. The Mets find themselves one game behind the Phillies and a half-game ahead of the Florida Marlins in the competitive N.L. East.

OF Lastings Milledge extended his career-best hitting streak to thirteen games with a sixth-inning bunt single.