Nationals fall despite Livan's efforts
Tying run gunned down in close play at the plate
NEW YORK -- The Nationals said they were going to put their 9-23-1 Spring Training record behind them, but their problems continued on the field as they lost their season opener to the Mets, 3-2, in front of 54,371 fans at Shea Stadium on Monday afternoon.
Like Spring Training, Washington had serious problems putting quality at-bats together against pitchers Tom Glavine (1-0), Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. They collected 12 hits, but left nine runners on base, squandering a quality start from right-hander Livan Hernandez.
"It was frustrating while the game is going on, because you know you are not going to have lot of opportunities against Glavine and this ballclub," manager Frank Robinson said. "So you have to take advantage of the ones you do have. We didn't do that today."
The Nationals had golden opportunities to score. In the fifth inning, with the Mets leading, 2-1, the Nationals had runners on second and third with one out against Glavine, but both Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano struck out looking.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Nationals had a golden opportunity to take the lead against Heilman. Washington was down, 3-2, and had runners on first and second with nobody out, but Jose Guillen hit into a double play and Johnson grounded out to end the inning.
"It's very frustrating. We had some opportunities, and we didn't get it done." Johnson said. "I had runners on second and third with one out. You have to find a way to get it in."
In the next inning, after Soriano singled, Ryan Zimmerman doubled down the left-field line. Soriano tried to score all the way from first base, but he had a problem on his way home -- Zimmerman's bat was located on the third-base line. The next hitter, Royce Clayton, didn't see the bat until Soriano was getting ready to slide.
"Usually on that play, the catcher or umpire kicks it out of the way. But it was further up the line, so nobody bothered [to move the bat]," Clayton said. "I can't go out there and move a bat. My job is get into position and tell him to get down. As I did that, I saw the bat and I was like, "'How in the heck is he going to get around that bat?'"
Soriano noticed the bat as well and decided to slide home head-first. Shortstop Jose Reyes made a perfect throw to catcher Paul Lo Duca, who caught the ball and tagged Soriano. First base umpire Tim Tschida ran down the line and called Soriano out.
But the replay showed that Lo Duca had actually dropped the ball. A few minutes later, according to Tschida, Jose Guillen informed the umpire that the replay showed Soriano was safe.
After seeing the replay himself, Tschida acknowledged that he made the wrong call.
"I was never aware that the ball came out until I saw a replay," Tschida said. "Jose Guillen went out to right field after the half inning was over and he said, 'I'm not trying to start anything.' He said the replay showed that he bobbled the ball. And I went, 'You know what? It never entered my mind at the time of the call.'
"There were like three replays, and one is very conclusive. The other two, you can't see, which is the view I had. It clearly shows the ball came out. He should have been safe."
Soriano said he never saw the ball drop out of LoDuca's glove.
"My teammates said he dropped the ball," said Soriano. "I didn't have time to look at the play. I put my hand on home plate, and I saw the umpire call me out. I thought my hand was in. I have to see the replay and see what happens."
Tschida's call wouldn't have been necessary had Nationals third-base coach Tony Beasley held Soriano at third with no outs in the inning.
Beasley said that he is usually conservative, but he wanted to be aggressive on that particular play.
"I thought that with the speed of the runner, I thought we had a chance to score," Beasley said. "I went against what I usually do. With no outs, I'm [usually] safer, but I felt we had a good chance to score. Reyes got the ball in his hands and made a nice relay. In my opinion, I thought he was safe."
|"We were aggressive and it didn't work out today, but I'm going to tell you, it's going to work out over the long haul."|
|-- First-base coach Davey Lopes|
There was even a baserunning blunder to end the game. With two outs, Jose Vidro singled to left-center field and tried to stretch it into a double. First-base coach Davey Lopes told Vidro to stop, but Vidro kept going and was thrown out at second base.
After the game, Vidro was seen apologizing to Lopes for not stopping, but Lopes praised Vidro for being aggressive against a power closer like Wagner.
"I want him to be aggressive. What are the chances of getting two more hits off Wagner? Had he not gone, everybody would have said, 'Why didn't you run and challenge him?' If you play safe, you are not going to win any ballgames," said Lopes, an aggressive baserunner in the 1970s and '80s. "I want these guys to be aggressive. We were aggressive and it didn't work out today, but I'm going to tell you, it's going to work out over the long haul."
Washington's defense wasn't the greatest either. In the fourth inning, Xavier Nady doubled down the left-field line. Soriano slowly charged for the ball, which allowed Cliff Floyd, not one of the fastest runners in baseball, to score all the way from first base.
Soriano thought the ball was going to bounce back to him, but the ball stayed near the corner of the wall.
"I tried to do my best," Soriano said.
After Glavine led off with a bunt single in the fifth inning, Reyes hit a routine grounder to Johnson, who touched first base for the first out. Glavine then found himself in a rundown play between first and second, but he went back to first safely because Hernandez was late covering first base.
Hernandez (0-1) ended up pitching six innings and giving up three runs on eight hits. He gave up an RBI single to Lo Duca in the third inning, an RBI double to Nady an inning later and a home run to David Wright in the seventh.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.