Homers, Knight Too Much For Nats

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | , , , | 0 comments »

Washington -- Carlos Beltran hit two home runs, 33-year old rookie Brandon Knight was strong through five innings, and the beleaguered bullpen held on -- barely -- as the New York Mets salvaged game three of a four game series with the Washington Nationals, 9-7, in front of 25,019 bi-partisan fans at Nationals Park. The Nats tried valiantly to come back against the imploding Mets bullpen, scoring in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings but it was just not enough in the end, as former Nat Luis Ayala got the last out of the game to record his eighth save since joining the Mets last month.

The Mets jumped all over Nats rookie starter Shairon Martis early. All-star SS Jose Reyes belted a home run to right field on the game's fifth pitch, and Carlos Delgado followed suit three batters later to take a 2-0 lead before most of the crowd had settled into their seats or taken a bite of their chili dog. Washington got one back in the second when Kory Casto doubled in Lastings Milledge, who had reached on an infield single. But Martis' trouble would continue in the top of the third.

Reyes walked to lead things off, and LF Dan Murphy sent a screaming line drive to right center, scoring Reyes without a throw and Murphy sliding into third with a triple. A batter later, Delgado delivered Murphy home with a single, and Beltran followed that with his first home run of the evening, a no-doubt-about-it shot into the bleachers in right field. Martis would get the final two outs of the inning, but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the third, ending his shortest stint in his brief major league career. His final numbers were pretty ugly: three innings, six earned runs, five hits, two walks, three home runs and four strikeouts. Martis, 21, is now 0-3 in three starts with a 6.23 ERA.

The Mets added solo runs in the fourth and sixth innings to take an 8-1 lead before the Nats bats woke up and began the comeback against a parade of Mets relievers. In the bottom of the sixth, facing Ricardo Rincon, pinch hitter Alberto Gonzales singled home 2B Emilio Bonifacio, who had earlier doubled. Elijah Dukes crushed a two-run home run off Brian Stokes down the line in left field in the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 8-5. Beltran his second of the night, his 26th of the season, in the eighth off reliever Charlie Manning, making the score 9-5. Aaron Heilman actually held the Nats scoreless in the eighth, although he gave up a double and single to start the inning, and the Nats found themselves down four starting the ninth.

Manager Jerry Manual called on side-arming Joe Smith to open the ninth against Milledge who found himself safe at first on David Wright's throwing error. Dukes drew a walk, putting two on with no outs. Manual lifted Smith in favor of Pedro Feliciano to face Anderson Hernandez, and Feliciano induced a hard ground ball to first baseman Delgado, who made a nifty back-hand stop to get the speedy Hernandez by half a step for the first out. Were the ball two feet more to Delgado's right, he never would have touched it and we might have witnessed a different ending. But they say baseball is a game of inches, and that axiom was no more applicable than last night.

Feliciano went on to get Bonifacio to tap a come-backer to the mound for the second out, and the Nats found themselves with backs to the wall once again. But catcher Wil Nieves was undaunted. After taking two strikes, he settled into the batter's box and found a pitch he finally liked, and he drilled it to the gap in right center, scoring Milledge and Dukes from second base, giving Nats fans a few more gasps of air and bringing the tying run to the plate.

Manager Manny Acta announced Luke Montz as the pinch-hitter for pitcher Garrett Mock, and Manual countered with his de facto closer, former long-time Washington National Luis Ayala. Acta called Montz back and got lefty-swinging Roger Bernadina off the bench to face Ayala. Bernadina worked Ayala into a 2-2 count, but the crafty veteran put one up in the zone that the youngster couldn't lay off, and when Bernadina swung through for strike three, Ayala pounced off the mound with a fist pump and beaming smile.

Ayala was no doubt proud about delivering the Mets a much needed victory against his former team and relief -- albeit temporary -- for their own relief corp.

The finale of the four-game set is Thursday night at 7:10 pm, in a match-up of squad aces. Tim Redding (10-9, 4.54) matches up with Johan Santana (13-7, 2.70).

NATS NOTES: Washington falls to 58-94, 27 games behind Philadelphia in the N.L. East. The Nats are ahead of Seattle and San Diego one-half game for the worst record in the majors. The Nats need to go 5-5 in their final 10 games to avoid 100 losses.

The team announced that RF Austin Kearns, C Jesus Flores, 2B Ronnie Belliard and 1B Dmitri Young will all be shut down and will not appear again in 2008.

GM Jim Bowden and Assistant GM Mike Rizzo will appear Friday at noon at the ESPN Zone in downtown DC for a Q&A with fans. Radio broadcaster Charlie Slowes will be the moderator.