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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nats Fall to Brewers in Extra Innings 4-3

Washington, DC--On as perfect a summer day as one could ask for in the Nation's Capital, a Memorial Day crowd of 28,552 was witness to a memorable ball game despite the home standing Washington Nationals losing to the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in eleven innings.

The game time temperature at the park was 78 degrees, but felt warmer sitting in the beautiful sunshine that bathed most of the crowd. Emotions would rise with the afternoon temperatures, though, as disputed plays and frustrating results were cause for patrons to get hot under the collar.

The deciding inning was ugly for the Nationals, not for the fact they gave up the winning run, but how it went down. With Luis Ayala unavailable to pitch due to overwork earlier in the series, and closer Jon Rauch having already pitched in the ninth inning, Manager Manny Acta let Saul Rivera go back out into the heat for his second inning of relief work. Milwaukee's stout first baseman, Prince Fielder, led off the frame and doubled down the left field line. Manager Ned Yost ordered fifth-place hitter Corey Hart to sacrifice, and he did his job, moving Fielder over to third. Rivera struck out the next batter, Russell Branyan, on three pitches, and with two outs the home fans remained hopeful that Rivera would emerge unscathed.

It was not to be though, as Gabe Kapler singled on the first pitch he saw from Rivera to drive in Fielder and give the Brewers the cushion they would need. Rivera (L, 3-2, 4.26) managed to get out of the inning without another run, but it was not for lack of effort. He walked light-hitting catcher Jason Kendall and pinch-hitter Craig Counsell on eight pitches, and would throw three more balls to second baseman Rickie Weeks. But Weeks eventually rolled over on a slider and grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

The bottom of the ninth would find no triumphant retort. Brewers Manager Ned Yost summoned his closer of the moment, Salomon Torres, and Torres shut down any thoughts of an extra innings comeback. Aaron Boone (0-for-5) and Wil Nieves both grounded out to short and Lastings Milledge (1-for-5, .242) struck out to end the matinee.

The Nats did have a few offensive heroes on this day, though not quite enough. Cristian Guzman continued his strong spring, by going 2-for-5 with a home run (his fifth) in the bottom of the first inning to get the Nats started. Jesus Flores, who looks stronger everyday as the Nats regular catcher, went 2-for-4 and raised his average to .340.

The biggest and most exciting play of the day centered around the Nats' big man himself, Dmitri Young. Down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, with the Nats having just surrendered the lead in the top of the inning, Young sauntered to the plate with two outs and a chance to tie, and he came through -- although in a controversial and contested manner. On an 0-1 count, Young blasted a shot toward the Red Porch in left center field that found Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron racing back to the wall. Cameron leapt at the wall but could not come down with the ball, and the ball ricocheted back into center field. By the time Cameron was able to recover and track the ball down, Young had carried his large frame all the way into third base with what appeared to be a triple.

But no sooner had time been called than Manny Acta came confidently out of the dug out to confer with the umpires. Acta pointed out to the men in black that Young's blast had carried over the outfield fence and had, in fact, bounced off the front wall of the Red Porch, some three feet or so behind the center field fence before bouncing back into play. After deliberating, the umpires agreed that had indeed been the case, and awarded Young his first home run since August of last season. Yost came out to protest mildly, but left after getting the explanation from the umps.

After the game, Cameron suggested changing the color of the second wall to alleviate the confusion, as both walls are green. "They [the upmires] got it right," Cameron said. "They've got to change it or do something to fix that."

Nationals starter Jason Bergmann had another terrific outing, extending his scoreless innings streak to nineteen and two-thirds since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus. He pitched five and two-thirds scoreless on the afternoon, allowing four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

The Nationals travel to San Diego for a three-game series with the Padres starting Tuesday night. Shawn Hill (0-1, 4.08) returns to the mound to test his right elbow against Randy Wolf (3-4, 4.76). Game time is 10:05 EDT.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops Washington's record to 22-30, nine games behind division leading Florida.

Ryan Zimmerman had the day off to rest his sore left shoulder. He is listed by the team as day-to-day on the injury report.

The Nationals are 1-9 in their last 10 extra innings games dating back to last season.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

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