05/15/08 6:05 PM ET
Bergmann outduels Mets' Pelfrey
Nationals defense supports righty's seven shutout innings
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
On April 12, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden informed Bergmann that he was going to be optioned to Triple-A Columbus after giving up 16 runs in 12 1/3 innings. Bowden also told Bergmann there was no guarantee that he would be back in the Major Leagues, because there were pitching prospects ahead of him in terms of getting a promotion.
Bergmann used Bowden's words as motivation. About 20 minutes after receiving the news, Bergmann was packing his bags and vowed that he would be back in the Major Leagues and indicated that he was better than the pitchers he would be competing against in Columbus.
"I've been down there and I've been up here," Bergmann said. "If I could compete [in the Major Leagues], obviously I should be better than everybody down there. If I had gotten shelled the whole time, would that have made me look bad? Probably. But there are good players there. The Clippers are playing fantastic. If they weren't playing so good, maybe I don't pitch so good."
As it turned out, Bergmann was just as good as his competition and returned to the big leagues in time to face the Mets on Thursday afternoon. Bergmann found himself in a pitchers' duel with Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey. When it was over, it was Bergman who came out on top as Washington defeated New York, 1-0, at Shea Stadium.
Bergmann was dominating. He pitched seven shutout innings, gave up three hits, struck out nine and walked two. The weird thing was, Bergmann was in control without having a good fastball. It was his slider and curveball that helped keep the Mets off balance.
"Today was a good day, and we are going to go forward from here," Bergmann said. "I was able to throw sliders early and throw curveballs over late. That was the whole key, because my fastball was little erratic. I had a lot of energy today. I was pumped up. It's New York on a Thursday afternoon. I was excited to be back."
Bergmann credits Columbus pitching coach Steve McCatty and Minor League pitching coordinator Spin Williams for getting his act together on the mound. They both told him to use the lower half of his body to avoid stress on his arm. That realization helped Bergmann regain his confidence.
"I was a little rattled, and the coaches came up to me and noticed some flaws," Bergmann said. "After that, I had a couple of good outings in a row. I just look to go forward from here."
At first, it was Pelfrey who was winning the battle, as he had a no-hitter after six innings. But Aaron Boone broke it up as he singled to right field leading off the seventh inning.
The Nationals finally got to Pelfrey in the top of the eighth. Catcher Jesus Flores led off with a double. After Willie Harris advanced Flores to third on a sacrifice bunt, Lopez drove in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly to left field to send Flores home.
It was the Nationals' defense that took over the rest of the game and preserved Bergmann's victory.
In the eighth, with reliever Luis Ayala on the mound, Jose Reyes led off with a bunt single. Luis Castillo then bunted the ball toward third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was able to throw Castillo out at first. Reyes then saw that nobody was covering third and ran toward the base. First baseman Aaron Boone made a great throw to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who beat Reyes to the bag and tagged him behind his back.
On April 3, the Nationals were burned by a similar play, as the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins went from first to third on a bunt play and were able to score the winning run. Guzman vowed that would not happen again.
"Zimmerman and Flores were close together at home plate, so it was my job to go to third. I went there and Boone made a good throw," Guzman said. "I just raised my hand and touched somebody."
In the ninth, closer Jon Rauch entered the game and he gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Beltran. Ryan Church was the next hitter. The Nationals outfielders were playing him to pull the ball to right field, but Church hit the ball near the left-field line.
Left fielder Willie Harris, who was playing left-center field, ran a long way and made a great diving catch for the first out of the inning.
"I got a good read on it," Harris said. "I had no idea I was going to catch it. I just ran after it as if I was going to catch it. The ball stayed up long enough and I was able to make a play."
Said manager Manny Acta: "Willie Harris basically won the game for us."
It looked as if the Mets were going to tie the game in the ninth. Beltran stole second and went to third on an error by Flores. But the game suddenly ended when Carlos Delgado lined out to Boone, who threw to Zimmerman to double up Beltran at third base. Beltran made no attempt to run back.
Acta said Beltran did not make a mistake by running home.
"It's not actually a running gaffe," the skipper said. "He was probably running on contact with the infield in and we got the break."
The Nationals took three out of four games from the Mets this week and are now 18-24 this season.
"It's just three games. We still need to get our offense going," Acta said. "It's good to win ballgames when your offense is struggling. Hopefully, Bergmann can settle down now and continue to help us out in the starting rotation."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.