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Friday, April 25, 2008

Nats, Lopez Slam Mets

Washington, DC--On a night in the national's capital that was created for playing baseball, the Washington Nationals offense finally opened up like the cherry blossoms in the left field plaza, and sent the Mets on their way with a 10-5 loss for their troubles.

The Nats' Felipe Lopez, recently named the starter at second base after spending most of the spring as a nomad without a set defensive position, went 2-for-4 on the evening, with the first grand slam in Nationals Park history and six RBIs. The Nats' thirteen hit attack tied a season high, and six different hitters had multiple hits for the home team. Left-handed pitcher Mike O'Connor (1-0) was the recipient of the offensive good fortune, pitching one scoreless inning in his first appearance of the season after being recalled from Triple-A Columbus earlier in the day.

Lopez hit his 'big fly' in the sixth inning, to this point the bane of existence for the Nats. Before last night, the team had been outscored in the sixth innings by a combined 28-3. But not on this night, as Wily Mo Pena and Aaron Boone singled off of Mets' starter Oliver Perez (2-1) to start the inning and were moved up to second and third on a groundout by catcher Wil Nieves. That's when Mets Manager Willie Randolph called for reliever Aaron Heilman, and after an intentional walk to Lastings Milledge loaded the bases, the scene was set for Lopez' heroics. With the count 3-2, Lopez got a change-up from Heilman, and deposited it deep into the right field grandstand, all but cementing this victory for the Nationals.

Since taking over for Ronnie Belliard at second seven games ago, Lopez is hitting .357 and driving the ball with as much authority as he ever has in a Nationals' uniform.

The Nats scored all ten of their runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, taking advantage where all season those benefits had been passing them by. In the fifth with the bases loaded, Lopez singled hard to center scoring Willie Harris, who had walked, and Wil Nieves, who reached on a single. After Cristian Guzman lined out, Ryan Zimmerman drove in Belliard, who also had walked, on a groundout to second. The scoring in the seventh all came via the single, as Nieves, pinch-hitter Johnny Estrada and Guzman all drove in runs with their safeties.

Shawn Hill started for the Nats and was generally effective, allowing three runs--two earned--in five innings. Each run allowed by Hill came on a two-out hit. He allowed plenty of base runners, giving up six hits and three walks, striking out five along the way. The Mets just weren't able to get the big hit early this evening and the Nats persevered until their lumber finally awoke from their spring slumber.

The Nationals begin a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs, in town for their only visit of the year, on Friday night as Odalis Perez (0-3, 3.38) challenges Ryan Dempster (3-0, 3.00) at 7:35 at Nationals Park.


NATS NOTES: Before the game, the Nats optioned lefty reliever Ray King to the minors and recalled left-handed pitcher Mike O'Connor from Columbus. King has 72 hours to decide whether or not to report to the Triple-A club. There are reports that if his agent can't find a team willing to take him from the Nats, King may retire rather than accept the assignment.

Former Nats catcher Brian Schneider was a late scratch for the Mets and was sent back to New York and hospitalized for an infection in his left thumb. The Mets recalled Gustavo Molina to back up Raul Casanova for the time being.

Center fielder Lastings Milledge was held out of the starting line-up for the first time last night. Milledge reported to the clubhouse late and Manager Manny Acta punished him for his tardiness. "He showed up late to work," Acta said. "[H]e's got things to learn, and some of that is being able to know how to handle 24 hours in the day."

Austin Kearns, hitting clean-up, was hitless in five at bats, lowering his average to .193.

Nats, Lopez Slam Mets also posted at DC Sports Box

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