Marlins and Willis send Nationals tumbling back to earth, 9-4

April 19, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Yesterday afternoon, manager Frank Robinson complained that the Washington Nationals' highlights were being given short shrift by ESPN.

Then his Nationals went out and committed a handful of not ready for prime time gaffes against Dontrelle Willis and the Florida Marlins as Washington's five-game winning streak and perfect home record came to an end.

Florida's 9-4 victory was a game Robinson may have wished weren't broadcast live on the cable giant. But it was.

The first-place Nationals had to be nearly perfect against Willis. They weren't. Their mistakes included a botched sacrifice that cost a run in the third, two misplays by catcher Gary Bennett in Florida's two-run fifth and a wild pitch in the Marlins' two-run sixth.

"I think we hurt ourselves," Robinson said. "Going against a guy like Willis, you can't afford to give runs away."

As consolation, the Nationals can tell themselves they were beaten by a pitcher who entered the game with a stealth ERA.

Willis (3-0), who tossed a five-hitter against Washington on April 8, was attempting to become the first pitcher to open the season with three complete-game shutouts since Luis Tiant of the Indians in 1966. No one had even started the season with three straight complete-game starts since Milwaukee's Danny Darwin in 1986.

Willis extended his scoreless-innings streak to 24, holding Washington to two hits as the Marlins took a 9-0 lead.

But Jose Vidro led off the seventh by clubbing the left-hander's first pitch over the left-field wall. Willis gave up three more hits and two more runs and was replaced by Antonio Alfonseca with nobody out.

Florida manager Jack McKeon said he wasn't aware Willis was pursuing Tiant's 39-year-old record.

The manager said he was planning to remove Willis from the game after seven innings even if he still had the shutout intact.

"I was taking him out regardless. What's the point? We had a big lead," McKeon said.

The Nationals, who had shown a propensity for late-game heroics, continued to battle against Florida relievers. Trailing 9-3, they loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth. But pinch hitter Brian Schneider hit into a double play and the game was all but over.

The Marlins took the lead with the aid of mistakes.

With the game scoreless, Paul Lo Duca walked in the fifth and was sacrificed to second by Willis, who reached when Bennett made a throwing error on the bunt.

"You have an error there on a play where they're giving you an out [the sacrifice]," Robinson said.

Juan Pierre's single scored Lo Duca and sent Willis to third. The pitcher scored on Bennett's passed ball.

Bennett earlier had thrown out three runners -- two attempting to steal in the first inning and one trying to move up on a pitch in the dirt in the third. But the Nationals could not recover from their later miscues.

The Marlins made it 3-0 in the sixth on consecutive doubles by Miguel Cabrera and Juan Encarnacion, chasing starter Tomo Ohka (1-2), who had entered the game 1-9 against Florida. Encarnacion moved to third on T.J. Tucker's wild pitch and scored on Lo Duca's sacrifice fly.

NOTE: The Nationals put right-handed reliever Antonio Osuna on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder and called up right-hander Gary Majewski from Triple-A New Orleans.

Nationals tonight

Opponent: Florida Marlins

Site, time: RFK Stadium, Washington, 7:05

TV/Radio: None/104.1 FM

Starters: Marlins' Brian Moehler (0-0, 2.35) vs. Nationals' Livan Hernandez (1-1, 4.50)

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