One play turns game around
Kearns misjudges fly ball, costing Nats chance at topping Mets
NEW YORK -- One has to feel bad for Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns. Here's a guy who works hard on a daily basis, but he doesn't have the stats to show for it.
Kearns is hitting .201 with three home runs and 16 RBIs this season, which is a far cry from what the team expects from him.
But the lack of offense usually doesn't affect his defense. Kearns is one of the best in the game, but on Tuesday, a misplay by the right fielder ended up hurting the Nationals, who lost to the Mets, 6-3, at Shea Stadium.
With the score tied at 2 and Nats left-hander John Lannan on the mound, the Mets had runners on first and second and two outs in the sixth inning, when Ryan Church hit a line drive to Kearns in right field. It looked like Kearns had a bead on it, but the ball sailed over his head for a two-run double. A TV replay showed that the ball just missed Kearns' glove.
"I thought I had a read on it," Kearns said. "It didn't do what I though it was going to do. It carried. I know he hit it pretty good. It seemed like a late hook or cut or something."
Almost nothing went Kearns' way on Tuesday. Kearns went 1-for-4 and left three runners on base. He even struck out looking in the top of the sixth on a questionable call by home-plate umpire Ted Barrett.
Asked how his spirits were these days, Kearns said, "Things haven't gone good. I like to win first. Personally, you always want to do well. You have to stay after it, be the same guy every day and you just come and play hard."
Kearns wasn't the only member of the Nationals who had an off night. Lannan pitched six innings and gave up four runs on 12 hits. He had problems with the Mets' left-handed hitters and the bottom of the order.
The eighth and ninth spots in the order went 4-for-5, and left-handed hitters went 5-for-9. Lannan's biggest problem was a former member of the Nationals, Ryan Church, who had four RBIs, including a solo home run.
"I was having a tough time getting the ball down on Church," Lannan said. "It was just a mental mistake and you move on."
|"I thought I had a read on it. It didn't do what I though it was going to do. It carried. I know he hit it pretty good. It seemed like a late hook or cut or something."|
|-- Austin Kearns, on misplaying Ryan Church's fly ball|
Church is doing things that he never did with the Nationals. He's hitting in the clutch and displaying power that general manager Jim Bowden was looking for during Church's three-year tenure in Washington. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said the big difference for Church is that he's playing on an everyday basis.
"We all know that he is talented. He is a good player," Zimmerman said. "When he would play four or five games in a row, he would kind of get in a groove. It's hard knowing you don't play every day. He has a chance in New York, and he is taking advantage of it. I'm happy for him."
After the Nationals made it a 4-3 game thanks to Rob Mackowiak's RBI grounder in the seventh inning, center fielder Lasting Milledge, the man who was part of the deal that sent Church to New York, made a costly error in the eighth inning that helped the Mets increase their lead.
With runners on first and second and reliever Luis Ayala on the mound, Jose Reyes singled up the middle to send home ex-Nats catcher Brian Schneider. On the same play, Milledge bobbled the ball that allowed Marlon Anderson to go to third base. Anderson would later score on a Church sacrifice fly.
The contest looked promising for Washington earlier in the game, when Zimmerman hit a two-run home run off Mets starter John Maine to give the Nats the lead in the third inning. But the Mets would tie the game off Lannan in the bottom of the frame when Church hit a solo home run over the center-field wall.
"Maine is the same as he always is," Zimmerman said. "He throws a lot of fastballs, which are sneaky. He threw a lot more changeups than he ever has."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.