Saturday, May 17, 2008

O's Beat Nats, 5-3

(from a piece I wrote for an online outlet, the DC Sports Box and has a little slant towards the Nationals - sorry, I'm not doing the same work twice...)

Baltimore, MD – On an unseasonably cold Friday night, the Washington Nationals began interleague play with their neighbor to the north, the Baltimore Orioles. The weekend series, dubbed “The Battle of the Beltway”, is the first of two series matchups between the franchises in 2008.

While it might lack the venom of the “Subway Series” – Yankees versus Mets – both teams are coming off a successful week as the Orioles swept a two-game set from the Boston Red Sox and the Nationals took three of four from the Mets.

When all was said and done Friday night, the Birds of Baltimore took the first game of the regional interleague series as they beat Washington, 5-3 in front of 29,266 divided fans. The loss was tough to take as the bats were active and pitching passable, but the Nats had much trouble on defense — in the outfield in particular.

A revamped lineup by manager Manny Acta was in store for the Washington Nationals last night with the return of 2007 All-Star Dmitri Young from the disabled list as the designated hitter (1-for-4 on the night), a hot Aaron Boone at first, and Elijah Dukes starting in right.

Despite three hits and two RBI’s from Ryan Zimmerman, along with two hits from Jesus Flores and Lastings Milledge, Washington never could find the kill shot and let this game slip away. The Nats would tag Orioles starter Garrett Olson for nine hits in five innings, but could turn only three of them into runs.

The Nationals got off to an early and promising start at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. In the first inning, Felipe Lopez singled to start the action and Cristian Guzman followed with a double sending Lopez to third. The next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, hit a sharp single to score both men on base and gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead.

The lead would be short-lived however, as Baltimore would tie the score at two in the bottom of the third inning, as Adam Jones and Brian Roberts singled and Melvin Mora walked to load the bases for Nick Markakis. Nats’ starter Shawn Hill then got the ground ball he wanted, but could not get the ultimate result he needed to escape damage.

Ryan Zimmerman fielded the grounder cleanly and threw to second to force Melvin Mora for the first out. Alas, Felipe Lopez, who took the throw at second, threw the ball away while attempting to double up Markakis at first after a hard take-out slide by Mora did its job.

Adam Jones would cross the plate on the grounder and Brian Roberts scored on Lopez’s error.
The Nationals would strike again in the fourth inning as Elijah Dukes would hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Aaron Boone to give them a 3-2 lead; however, in the bottom of the frame, Orioles’ left fielder Luke Scott would hit his third homer – a ball that cleared the right-centerfield wall by plenty to tie the game 3-3.

Baltimore would put the game away in the fifth inning, an inning of baseball that would be a comedy of errors for both teams.

Brian Roberts drove a ball to the right field corner to start off the inning, and was helped tremendously by a huge fielding miscue by Elijah Dukes, resulting in a triple. The Baltimore second baseman’s hit careened off the right field wall and took a big bounce over Dukes, who tried to play the hit too closely to the “tall wall” scoreboard, and the ball carried halfway back to the infield allowing Roberts to slide safely into third.

Melvin Mora, back in the O’s line-up after missing two games with a sore shoulder, hit a fly ball to right center that appeared catchable, but fell just between Nats center fielder Lasting Milldege and right fielder Dukes. After the game, Milledge admitted neither player called for the fly ball. It was scored a double for Mora, and Roberts walked home to take the lead for Baltimore.

After Hill struck out Markakis, Aubrey Huff hit a sharp grounder that Hill snared, and the Nats caught Mora in a run-down, with Huff eventually taking second on the play. O’s first baseman Kevin Millar singled to drive in Huff for a 5-3 lead, but the inning ended as the slow-footed Millar tried to stretch the hit into a double and was thrown out – easily – at second.

Baltimore’s Garrett Olson would earn his third win of the season, but he was not nearly as sharp as he was in his first two starts. He went five innings, allowed three runs on nine hits and struck out three while walking one.

Washington’s Shawn Hill finally got his first decision of the year – a loss. He too went five innings, however, as the game went on his command would wane and he was tagged for five runs – four earned. Due to the poor defense behind him, however, his numbers were well-inflated. Between Milledge and Pena, several fly balls that fell as “hits” should have been caught. Hill threw 99 pitches, struck out three and walked one.

Matt Chico, who has been struggling as starter, pitched a little more than two innings of one-hit ball in relief and Jesus Colome wrapped things up in the Nationals’ loss.

Baltimore’s relief corps kept Washington from doing any further damage as reliever Matt Albers pitched two innings and James Johnson came into the eighth inning and struck out the side. George Sherrill, the Oriole closer, earned his 16th save of the season.

The two teams continue their matchup in Charm City on Saturday night as Washington’s Odalis Perez (1-3) counters against Baltimore’s Brian Burres (3-4).

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