Nationals pound Mets in opener
Acta's squad embracing spoiler role against East leaders
NEW YORK -- While manager Manny Acta doesn't like to call his Nationals spoilers, one can't help but think they are trying their best to ruin the Mets' chances of reaching the postseason.
On Monday night, with the help of Austin Kearns and Ronnie Belliard, Washington pounded the Mets, 13-4, at Shea Stadium.
In the last week, Washington has won three out of the last four games against New York, which now has just a two-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East race.
The victory was further proof that the Nationals are making progress under Acta. They need one more win to match last year's victory total and Acta wants to make sure that the Nationals don't finish in last place for the fourth consecutive season. The magic number to clinch fourth place is three.
"I'm very proud of my guys, not only how they are playing against the Mets, but how they have played the whole season. I think it's a big accomplishment for those guys. I have to give my coaching staff a lot of credit. We came in here and tried to fix some things and tried to make them play the way we want them to play. It has worked. Here we are: Just as many wins as last year without all those big guys we had."
Maybe Ryan Church said it best. The Nationals aren't the most talented team, but they are showing a lot of heart during the final week of the season.
"We just like to compete and we showed it," Church said. "When it comes to heart, we are up there. It goes to show that it starts with the manager. It shows what kind of team we are. We battle. We are not giving up, we are not packing it in. We have an opportunity to make the Mets or the Phillies join us for the offseason. We don't know. It could be the Mets or the Phillies."
The Nationals offense has been struggling for most of the season, but they did one thing that they rarely do. They scored 10 of their 13 runs with two outs.
"It shows that if you have patience and put good at-bats together, regardless how many outs, you can always score runs. That's what we did tonight," Acta said.
At first, it looked like the Nationals were in for a long night because left-hander Matt Chico was shaky in the first two innings. He walked two batters in the first inning and then gave up the first run of the game the following inning. Carlos Gomez hit a sacrifice fly to score Carlos Delgado.
But Chico settled down and pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on nine hits. He managed to win his first game since July 31 against the Reds.
"A lot of times he started out shaky, but he gets right back up and puts up some good innings for us," Acta said. "He goes past the fifth."
Chico also thought he didn't have it on the mound. He said his arm "felt heavy" and his mechanics were out of whack. The ball had a tendency to cut a little too much over the plate.
"I would say I went back to my old ways," he said. "It's not something I was trying to do. It just happened. My mechanics didn't feel right. I thought it was going to be a long one."
The Nationals then gave Chico all the runs he would need to win the game. Right-hander Mike Pelfrey started for the Mets and allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in 5 2/3 innings.
In the fourth inning, Robert Fick singled to left, driving in Ryan Zimmerman. On the same play, left fielder Moises Alou bobbled the ball and that allowed Kearns to score and give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.
In fifth inning, Kearns helped the Nationals increase the lead when he hit a three-run homer over the left-field wall.
"You have to take advantage of your opportunities. It was nice to do that tonight," Kearns said. "We all know we are playing Philly and the Mets to end the season. I always enjoy playing those teams which could be in the playoffs. You realize what you have to do to win."
With Joe Smith on the mound in the following inning, Belliard hit a two-run double. Both runs were charged to Pelfrey.
Belliard drove in his third run of the game with a double as the Nats padded the lead with a three-run eighth, and Ryan Langerhans finished the scoring with a three-run shot in the ninth.
"With the Mets, there are some question marks with them," Church said. "We took advantage of all the opportunities we got and we were able to get a lot of runs on the board. We just put the game out of reach."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.