Nats rise in 9th, drop Braves, 4-3

Futility with runners on base ends for Washington as Schneider doubles

April 13, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - When Brian Schneider hit a two- run double to center in the ninth inning last night, the Washington Nationals finally had another clutch hit.

As if on cue, their drought ended. And, immediately, the rains came.

Before the Nationals could preserve their 4-3 comeback victory in the bottom of the inning, a torrential rainstorm suspended play for 31 minutes.

When the game resumed, Washington closer Chad Cordero shut down the Braves for his first save of the year.

It was an impressive comeback for the Nationals (4-4), who couldn't do anything against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson for eight innings.

Heading to the ninth, the Nationals were 0-10 with runners on base. Their only run came on a bases-empty homer by Jose Vidro to lead off the fourth.

It was more of the same for a team that was 3-for-50 (.060) with runners on base in its previous five games.

"When you"ve got those kinds of numbers." said Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson, "you"re due for a big hit, and we came up with it tonight. I think we"ve been getting a lot of quick outs, and not shown a lot of patience at the plate. We showed a lot of patience and it paid off."

Said Washington manager Frank Robinson: "We haven't been cashing in with two outs and Schneider hasn't beens winging the bat too well. We were down to our last out, but we were still pulling for him and he came through for us.

Maybe Atlanta closer Dan Kolb was tempting fate. Entering the ninth with a 3-1 lead, Kolb walked Vidro, allowed a single to Jose Guillen and walked Nick Johnson to load the bases with no outs.

He then induced a force at home for the first out before Cristian Guzman hit a sacrifice fly to center to reduce the lead to 3-2.

On a 1-1 pitch, Schneider hit a liner to right center to score Guillen and Johnson and give the Nationals their third comeback win this season.

Not bad for a team that had scored just seven runs in its previous 44 innings heading into last night's ninth.

To be fair, the National League has plenty of excellent starting pitching, and it seems like the Nationals have faced most of it in the season's first week.

Yesterday, they went up against Hudson, one of Atlanta's best or, as Robinson joked "an Oakland A's pitcher the Atlanta Braves have."

Hudson, the perennial Cy Young Award candidate for Oakland, made his regular-season debut at Turner Field and was as good as advertised.

He allowed just six hits and no walks in eight innings.

His only mistake was the Vidro homer in the fourth.

The Braves tied the score in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Andruw Jones that scored Pete Orr. They took the lead in the sixth inning on a two-run double by Chipper Jones off Esteban Loaiza.

Loaiza retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced before allowing the three runs. He lasted seven innings and was replaced by Luis Ayala (1-0), who pitched a scoreless eighth.

Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla sat out most of the game and likely won't start this afternoon's game due to muscle soreness behind his right shoulder. Castilla said he pulled a muscle during batting practice Monday, but stayed in that night's game because he only felt pain when he threw overhand.

Robinson said he"ll give Castilla at least two days off as a precautionary measure. Castilla pinch-hit in the ninth inning ...

Utilityman Jamey Carroll filled in for Castilla at third base yesterday. It was his first start of the season.

NOTE: President Bush will throw out the first pitch at tomorrow's home opener at RFK Stadium. He"ll be the 12th president to do so in Washington, but the first since Richard M. Nixon in 1969. Bush's pitch comes exactly 95 years to the day that William Howard Taft, the country's 27th president, started the tradition.

Nationals today

Opponent: Atlanta Braves

Site, time: Turner Field, Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 20/1050 AM

Starters: Nationals' Tomo Ohka (0-1, 4.50) vs. Braves' John Thomson (1-0, 1.29)

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