Nationals start fast, put away Mets, 11-4

Three-run first inning sets tone as Washington has 17 hits in ending slide

Baseball

April 25, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson proudly eschews numbers and statistics for old-fashioned baseball sense.

He has said repeatedly that he doesn't need a computer printout to know how his team and players are doing. He certainly didn't need to be told that the Nationals had scored in the first inning only twice in their first 16 games, and that they had won both times.

Now, after pounding the New York Mets, 11-4, to avoid a sweep at Shea Stadium yesterday, the Nats are 3-for-3 when they grab a first-inning lead.

"You saw how important it was [to score early]," Robinson said. "If we don't score in the first inning and they go out and put three on the board, you're looking at trouble."

Instead, the Nationals took an early lead, allowed the Mets to tie the game, but never trailed in their best offensive performance of the young season.

After scoring just 16 runs in its previous six games, Washington (10-9) tied a season high for runs and set a Nationals record with 17 hits. The hot hitting halted a three-game losing streak for a team that was outscored 13-6 in its first two games against the Mets.

"It's a huge win, to get some confidence going back home," said outfielder Brad Wilkerson, who had four hits, including a two-run homer in the fourth. "It's disappointing to lose the way we did the first two nights, but to come here and get a win, it was a big game for us."

Each position player had at least a single, with Vinny Castilla also getting four hits. The momentum, for a change, started in the first, when the Nationals scored three runs and probably should have had more.

Wilkerson doubled to right off Mets starter Victor Zambrano (1-2) to start the afternoon. After Nick Johnson walked, Jose Vidro singled to right and Wilkerson motored around third in an attempt to score.

He appeared to get his hand under catcher Mike Piazza's tag at the plate, but umpire Gary Cederstrom called Wilkerson out. Jose Guillen followed with a sacrifice fly to give Washington a 1-0 lead, and catcher Gary Bennett later hit a two-run single.

The three runs matched the total number of runs the Nationals had scored in the first inning in all of their previous 16 games.

The lead was short-lived, however.

In their half of the first, the Mets loaded the bases on two bunt hits and a single up the middle, then Piazza hit a three-run double down the left-field line to tie the score at 3.

It was a rough start for Washington's Livan Hernandez, but he escaped further damage when he induced a popout and an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Hernandez (2-2) labored again in the second, but he didn't yield a run for the rest of his seven innings, allowing nine hits and two walks.

"In the third inning, I started more with my control," Hernandez said. "I felt [much] better."

The Nationals broke the tie on a groundout in the third and scored two or more runs in three of the next five innings.

Perhaps the most important inning, though, was the first. "It seems when you score early," Wilkerson said, "it carries on throughout the whole game."

NOTES: The Nationals demoted left-handed reliever Joe Horgan to Triple-A New Orleans after yesterday's game. They are expected to promote Jon Rauch from Triple-A today and put him in the bullpen. ... Guillen started yesterday after leaving Saturday's game with a slightly pulled groin muscle. ... While trying to break up a double play in the ninth, Wilkerson was hit in the right forearm by the throw. After the game, he said the arm was sore. He is listed as day-to-day.

Nats schedule

Tonight's game

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

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

Radio: 104.1 FM

Starters: Phillies' Cory Lidle (0-2, 3.86) vs. Nationals' Zach Day (1-1, 5.09)

The week ahead

Date Opponent Time

4/26 Philadelphia 7:05 p.m.

4/27 Philadelphia 4:35 p.m.

4/28 Off

4/29 N.Y. Mets 7:05 p.m.

4/30 N.Y. Mets 7:05 p.m.

5/1 N.Y. Mets 8:05 p.m.

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