Nationals' worn-out 'pen frays in defeat

Six-game win streak ends as weary relievers blow lead in Mets' 5-2 victory

July 05, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - All the elements seemed present for a gala homecoming for the Washington Nationals yesterday.

A festive crowd of 44,331, announced as the largest of the season, came to welcome the team home from a sweep of the Chicago Cubs that had extended the team's winning streak to six games and its lead in the National League East to 5 1/2 .

It was the first Independence Day game in Washington since 1968, and the Nationals entered with the best home record in the major leagues at 29-10.

But a depleted bullpen that had worked overtime at Wrigley Field on Sunday turned out to be the decisive factor as the New York Mets rallied from a two-run deficit to spoil Washington's reunion, 5-2.

"What we used, that was our bullpen," said Nationals manager Frank Robinson after the Mets scored three runs in the ninth inning against Sun Woo Kim to break a 2-2 tie. "We took our shot yesterday and came away with a big win [5-4 over the Cubs in 12 innings]."

Starter John Patterson did his best to keep the Nationals in front, shutting out the Mets through six innings before tiring. In the process, though, he had a high pitch count, leaving with 116 thrown after yielding a leadoff single to Marlon Anderson and a double to David Wright in the seventh.

Luis Ayala, who pitched an inning Sunday, entered and allowed a run-scoring single to Jose Reyes. He followed with two outs, one of them coming when Wright was thrown out at the plate on a fielder's choice grounder by Chris Woodward. But on that play, Reyes hustled to third - and scored the tying run on a bloop hit by Mike Cameron.

"I wanted to get him [Patterson] through the seventh, but he had used a lot of pitches early and it caught up to us in the end. I stretched him out probably longer than he should have gone," Robinson said. "He was just spent. And some of these guys [relievers] need rest if they're going to be effective later on."

Robinson said that if the Nationals had "executed a little better" during the rundown, which required three throws, "we might have gotten out of that with one run."

Kim, who also pitched an inning Sunday, survived unscathed in the eighth before the Mets bunched four hits, including run-scoring ones by pinch hitter Jose Offerman, Cameron and Carlos Beltran to settle the outcome in the ninth.

"We had them in the corner and let it slip away," said Patterson, who had his ninth no-decision in 14 starts. "I wasn't tired, but bringing in Ayala there was the right decision. He gets out of those jams all the time."

The Nationals parlayed their three doubles into the game's first two runs with Junior Spivey and Jose Guillen accounting for the RBIs against Kaz Ishii, who left in the sixth. But Heath Bell, Roberto Hernandez and closer Braden Looper were solid out of the New York bullpen, and that was the difference. Hernandez got the win, and Looper earned his 18th save.

"We won six in a row before this," Patterson said. "It's not like this is the end of the world."

Said Robinson: "Sometimes, you just have to give the other team the credit."

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