Loaiza, Nats silence Jays in 3-0 win as Bush watches

Pitcher's double scores 2

Towers gets another loss

June 25, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - So many things already have gone right this season for the Nationals, it's been somewhat perplexing at times how little of that good fortune has touched pitcher Esteban Loaiza.

In 15 starts this year, Loaiza - who was signed in the offseason after he struggled miserably with the New York Yankees - has been solid, and at times, stellar.

Coming into last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, a 3-0 Washington victory, he'd given up three runs or fewer in 11 of his starts. But thanks to the fourth-worst run support in the National League (2.55 runs a game) he'd left the game with the lead just three times.

And so it was fitting, perhaps, that Loaiza put the game squarely on his own broad shoulders, delivering not just with his arm this time, but also with his bat. Loaiza pitched six scoreless innings against Toronto and drove in two runs in the second inning with a two-out double, leading Washington to victory in front of 36,689 at RFK Stadium.

"I'm sure glad we had his bat in the lineup tonight," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said jokingly.

The victory was the 11th straight at home for the Nationals, and it was capped off by Chad Cordero, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning to record his major-league-leading 24th save.

The game also featured a surprise appearance by President Bush, who watched the Washington team for the first time since opening night.

Bush was joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, brother Marvin Bush and the president's nominee as U.S. ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton - a Bush cousin by marriage. They appeared in the front row of an open, mezzanine-level box along the third base line.

Loaiza, who hadn't pitched since June 13 because of neck stiffness, wasn't overpowering. Toronto scratched out six hits and a walk, but the Blue Jays rarely hit the ball hard and fell behind in the count often.

Of Loaiza's 93 pitches, 62 were strikes. He also struck out five and walked one.

"He had real good stuff," Robinson said. "I don't know why, but for whatever reason, it seems like whenever he's out there, our guys don't hit. If he hadn't hit that double, it would have been a real battle."

With the victory, Loaiza passed Ismael Valdez for second place on the list for most career victories by a Mexican-born pitcher with 102. Former Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela is the country's all-time leader with 172.

"That gives me goose bumps, just hearing you tell me that," Loaiza said. "That really surprises me. I remember watching Fernando when he was pitching with the Dodgers. He's a very big idol to the people of Mexico."

The Nationals, who led the NL East by just 1 1/2 games when they began a nine-game road trip on June 13 , now hold a four-game lead over Atlanta.

Loaiza gave his teammates all the runs they would need in the second inning, driving a slider out over the plate to the left-field wall off former Orioles pitcher Josh Towers, scoring Vinny Castilla and Junior Spivey for a 2-0 lead.

Towers (5-7) was charged with the loss, the sixth in his past seven starts.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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