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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cards, Rain Pummel Nationals 6-1

Washington, DC--What started off as a beautiful day Tuesday became a rainy, ugly mess in the evening for the Washington Nationals and the 26,875 fans in attendance, as the Nationals lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, after two long rain delays and some specifically terrible play in the field.

Just as gametime approached, the skies that had been blue turned dark and ominous almost instantaneously. Then, with the first pitch, it rained and rained -- monsoon-like at times -– throughout the first few innings of play. The Nationals played the game much like the weather conditions – cold, messy and miserable.

In the horrific first inning, the Nats surrendered four runs via two errors and several costly mental mistakes, and the team once again suffered through what is now a comedic recurring theme: an offense that is unable to mount any continued threat at all. The Nats managed just six hits off five Cardinals pitchers.

Washington starter Odalis Perez hit St. Louis leadoff hitter Brian Barton to start the game, and one out later slugger Albert Pujols grounded the ball back to the pitcher, a routine double play ball. Perez fired to second hoping to turn two, but second baseman Felipe Lopez dropped the ball in an attempt to make the catch for his fifth error of the season. The drop actually mattered little for the force out, as Lopez took a bad route to the bag and was several feet in front of second when he dropped Perez’ throw. It’s debatable whether he would have had Pujols at first anyway.

Then the flood gates opened.

The next batter, St. Louis right fielder Ryan Ludwick, hit a sinking line drive to left field. Thanks to the slick conditions, Ryan Langerhans misplayed the ball and allowed it to skip past him for Washington’s second error of the inning. The ball went all the way to the left field fence, and by the time it was retrieved, Barton would cross the plate and St. Louis took a quick 1-0 lead.

Two batters later, catcher Yadier Molina would hit a three-run homer – his third of the season – into the bullpen over the left-field wall and the Cardinals had a 4-0 lead.

Odalis Perez (L, 2-5, 4.09) would find himself out of the game after the third inning. Although he gave up five hits and four runs, he was charged with a single earned run. To add injury to insult, Perez left the game with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder. He will miss his next start, and that does not bode well for a team with half of their opening day roster on the disabled list.

In the fourth inning, the Cardinals mounted another challenge as Cesar Izturis doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. At that point, the umpires decided they had enough, and the game was suspended for the first rain delay, which lasted one hour and fifty-one minutes.

Once play resumed, Albert Pujols was hit by a pitch that got away from reliever Jesus Colome. Pujols then left the game with what the Cardinals announced was a strained calf muscle. More than likely, though, it was to remove him from harm’s way in ugly playing conditions.

The next play was indicative of the plight of the Nationals right now.

With Pujols’ replacement, Rick Ankiel, at first and Izturis at third, Cards Manager Tony LaRussa put on the double-steal. Every high school team has a play to cut off the throw at second and go back to the plate to nab the runner going home. But the Nats botched this one too, as the throw went through to second base where Felipe Lopez was slow with the relay, allowing Ankiel – and more importantly, Izturis – to be safe. St. Louis took a 5-0 lead, and with the Nats offense that lead proved insurmountable.

After yet another rain delay – this time 51 minutes long – St. Louis added another run in the fifth from pitcher Kyle Lohse’s RBI single that drove in Troy Glaus.

Washington finally got on the board in the bottom part of the fifth inning thanks to Ryan Langerhans driving in Jesus Flores, who had doubled, on a groundout. But there was no more comeback, as the Nats right now are simply incapable of mounting any sustained offense. For the few fans left in the stands that had the bravery(?) to sit through the rain jungle conditions, there was not much else to see.

Kyle Lohse (W, 6-2, 3.87) – who was signed by the Cardinals right before the start of season – pitched through both rain delays and went five innings for his third straight victory. The St. Louis Cardinals have won five out of their last seven games.

The Nationals, who are on a three-game losing streak, will try to hit pay-dirt on Wednesday night as John Lannan (4-5, 3.52) counters against St Louis’ Todd Wellemeyer (6-1, 3.16). The game starts at 7:10pm at Nationals Park.

NATS NOTES: The loss leaves the Nationals record at 24-35, last in the NL East, 10 1/2 behinnd Philadelphia, and third worst in the National League.

The team is now hitting .230, worst in the league. They are next-to-last in home runs with 40, ahead only of Los Angeles (39).

The Nationals have lost six out of their last eight, and in the last three games have managed to only score one run.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008
Anthony Amobi of DC Sports Box contributed to this article

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