Nats fall to Phillies in '09 home opener
Washington remains winless despite hitting three homers
WASHINGTON -- The Phillies used the long ball to defeat the Nationals, 9-8, in the 2009 home opener at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon. Washington is off to an 0-7 start in '09 and has lost 11 straight games dating back to last season.
The game was tied at 4 when manager Manny Acta decided to use reliever Saul Rivera to face the heart of the Phillies order -- Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- in the seventh inning. The plan backfired as Rivera was in trouble from the start. He hit Victorino and Utley with pitches. Ryan Howard followed and hit a three-run homer to left-center field on an 0-1 slider.
After Jayson Werth struck out, Raul Ibanez homered over the left-center-field wall to make it 8-4.
Some wondered why Acta didn't used left-hander Michael Hinckley that inning, because Utley Howard and Ibanez are left-handed hitters, and Hinckley pitched one-third of an inning in the sixth. Acta said Rivera has the most experience and is known to get lefties out. Before Monday's game, left-handers were hitting .255 against Rivera in his career.
"You can't bring a lefty for the sake of bringing in a lefty," Acta said. "Anyone who has more than one year of service in the big leagues, Saul probably has better numbers than any of them. He is real good against Victorino and Utley. It's just part of the game. He hit both of them."
Said Rivera: "I just missed my spots. We are hitting the ball pretty good and just keep battling. It's tough for us. In my personal opinion, we should put some zeroes on the board and help the team out."
Hinckley was prepared for anything in the game, but declined to second-guess Acta.
"I knew the lineup and Manny came to the mound and he called on me to get [switch-hitter] Jimmy Rollins from the right side. I went out there and did my job. Praise the Lord," Hinckley said. "I went into the dugout and [pitching coach Randy] St. Claire said that was it. All I can control is what I can do. So it's Manny's decision."
Philadelphia tacked on one more run in the eighth as left-hander Wil Ledezma gave up a sacrifice fly to Victorino.
The Nationals battled back and made it a one-run game by the ninth. Adam Dunn hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh off right-hander Chad Condrey. Two innings later, Ryan Zimmerman drilled a two-run homer off closer Brad Lidge.
But the Nationals came up short as Dunn and Elijah Dukes struck out and Nick Johnson grounded out to end the game.
"This came showed what we need to do: play defense and pitch a little bit better," Zimmerman said. "We continue to hit the ball well today and you have to battle through it."
It was the Nationals' defense that betrayed them early in the game. During the first five innings, the game went back and forth. After two innings, the game was tied at 2. With Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer on the mound in the first inning, Dukes doubled home Cristian Guzman to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
An inning later, the defense started to betray right-hander Daniel Cabrera. After Werth reached base on an infield single, second baseman Anderson Hernandez misplayed a ball hit by Ibanez and was charged with an error to put runners on first and second. After Pedro Feliz walked to loaded the bases, Werth came home after Chris Coste drew a walk. Moyer then hit a sacrifice fly to send home Ibanez.
The Nationals tied the score in the bottom of the inning, when Guzman singled to center to drive in Hernandez.
Philadelphia took a 4-2 lead off Cabrera on Victorino's third-inning homer. An inning later, Dunn's error helped the Phils add another run.
Washington tied the score at 4 off Moyer. Guzman, who had five hits in the game, made it a one-run game with a single that drove in Lastings Milledge. An inning later, Dukes homered to tie the score. The Nationals found themselves behind after that.
"We need to hold the opposition to fewer than six, seven, eight runs. Then we'll have a chance to win," Acta said. "Our offense hasn't been our biggest problem. Yes , we have left some runners in scoring position, but I think the main thing is, we can't be allowing eight, nine runs every day."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.