Mets come out on top in pivotal play
Lo Duca receives benefit of doubt on difficult call at the plate
NEW YORK -- Paul Lo Duca wanted to see a replay, just to make sure he'd actually dropped the ball. His teammates needed no such confirmation.
Lo Duca and the Mets received the benefit of a bang-bang play in the eighth inning on Monday at Shea Stadium, helping New York hold on for a 3-2 Opening Day victory over the Nationals.
"I told [my teammates] I'm a magician in the offseason," Lo Duca said. "The hand is quicker than the eye. I was guilty as charged."
With nobody out in the eighth inning, Alfonso Soriano attempted to score from first base on a Ryan Zimmerman double to left field. Cliff Floyd scooped the ball and threw it to shortstop Jose Reyes, who fired a relay throw to Lo Duca at the plate.
Sliding head-first, Soriano was called out by umpire Tim Tschida, who could not see Lo Duca briefly lose the ball, trickling down his arm before the catcher was able to hold it up for view.
Soriano tried to plead himself safe on the play, but the call was not argued at the time by Washington players and coaches.
"You think I would have stayed in the dugout if I'd seen [the ball] come out?" Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "It doesn't do any good now."
Upon returning to the dugout, Lo Duca was informed by his Mets teammates -- who had a better view from the first-base dugout than the Nationals did from the third-base side -- that he had 'sold' a call.
Lo Duca jokingly charged himself with a "traveling violation" for the play.
"You try to take your body and block the plate first," Lo Duca said. "Whatever happens, happens. That's what I tried to do, block the plate. I had it originally. When I went to tag him, it sort of slipped out."
Waved home by Nationals third-base coach Tony Beasley, Soriano said he would have preferred to slide feet-first into Lo Duca, but the left fielder was forced to make a head-first attempt because of an errant bat hugging the third-base line.
The bat had been left in the course of action by Zimmerman, who tossed the lumber aside after doubling off the Mets' Aaron Heilman. On-deck batter Royce Clayton watched the play develop and said there was little Soriano could have done.
"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?'"
With Lo Duca blocking the plate, Soriano attempted to juke right and then shot his left hand between the catcher's legs, appearing on replays to have brushed the plate.
"I didn't have time to look at the play," Soriano said. "I put my hand on home plate and I saw the umpire call me out. I thought my hand was in."
Footage shot from angles behind home plate captured Lo Duca briefly dropping the ball, then smothering it and showing it to Tschida with his bare hand.
Tschida -- who had properly rotated to home plate to cover when plate umpire Rick Reed moved up the third-base line -- could not see the play from his vantage point, charging in from the base.
Tschida said that Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen mentioned the missed call between innings.
"[Guillen] said, 'I'm not trying to start anything.' He said the replay showed that [Lo Duca] bobbled the ball. And I went, 'You know what? It never entered my mind at the time of the call,'" Tschida said.
"And [the umpires] saw it in here. 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."
With Soriano called out, Heilman escaped further damage in the inning, getting Clayton to ground out and striking out Brian Schneider for the third out. Closer Billy Wagner set the Nationals down in the ninth inning, with Jose Vidro thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double to end the game.
"You're going to get some breaks going against you during the season," Lo Duca said. "We got this one today."
Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. Reporter Bill Ladson contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.