Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After last night's walk-off win, the Nats attempt to make it two in a row.
But there it is in bold type at the top of this post: Game 81. The Nats have gotten to this point in unconventional fashion, winning 20 of their first 35 games and then losing 30 of their last 45. But if they beat the Mets tonight, they'll sit at 36-45. That's a 72-win pace, a 13-game improvement over last year. Deep down, wouldn't you all take that at the end of 2010?
Luis Atilano faces lefty Jonathon Niese tonight. Jim Riggleman sticks with his same lineup from last night, aside from Ivan Rodriguez taking over again behind the plate and Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman flip-flopping spots. Center fielder Angel Pagan returns for the Mets after sitting out last night with muscle spasms in his side, but shortstop Jose Reyes remains out with his own oblique/back injury.
Check back for updates before, during and after the game...
METS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 79 degrees, Wind 5 mph in from CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
RF Michael Morse
SS Ian Desmond
P Luis Atilano
CF Angel Pagan
SS Ruben Tejeda
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
LF Jason Bay
C Rod Barajas
RF Jeff Francoeur
2B Alex Cora
P Jonathon Niese
7:07 p.m. -- We are underway with a strike from Luis Atilano to Angel Pagan. In honor of Fourth of July weekend, both teams are wearing white caps with stars and stripes inside their respective logos.
7:14 p.m. -- Technically, Atilano just allowed an earned run in the top of the first. But he wasn't exactly helped by his defense. With runners on the corners and one out, Atilano got Ike Davis to hit a bouncer toward second. It would have been a difficult double play to turn, but Cristian Guzman didn't even give the Nats a chance when he booted the ball. Guzman recovered in time to retire Davis at first, so there was no error on the play. But the Mets have taken a 1-0 lead in part because of shaky Nats defense.
7:24 p.m. -- Nyjer Morgan has been thrown out trying to steal for the 12th time this season, even though he beat Rod Barajas' throw to second. Morgan overslid the base, and David Wright (who was covering second base because the Mets had the shift on for Adam Dunn) tagged his foot when it came off the bag. Now, it's possible Wright actually pushed Nyjer off the base, which is what I believe Morgan and Jim Riggleman were arguing. But Bill Welke wasn't having any of it, so Nyjer's out and the Nats are done in the bottom of the first.
7:43 p.m. -- So let's see if I have this straight: Four of the Nationals' first six batters tonight struck out against Jonathon Niese, a pitcher who entering tonight had recorded only 57 strikeouts in 75 innings. This isn't Johan Santana, folks. Mets still lead 1-0 after two.
7:46 p.m. -- If you haven't seen the news I posted a little earlier: The Nationals have signed Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (Livan's 44-year-old half-brother) to a minor-league contract. Not to be outdone, the Mets just announced they've signed Brian Bruney to a minor-league deal. The guy the Nats paid $1.5 million to post a 7.64 ERA in 19 appearances will now report to Class AAA Buffalo.
7:49 p.m. -- Nothing wrong with the way Atilano has pitched so far tonight. He's allowed one run and one hit over three innings, striking out four in the process. He's also retired eight straight since David Wright singled in the first.
8:00 p.m. -- On a positive note, Nyjer Morgan has now singled in his last four at-bats, dating back to the seventh inning last night. He's been far from perfect otherwise, but perhaps this is an encouraging sign of his bat getting back on track.
8:12 p.m. -- Atilano nearly pitched himself out of the ultimate jam (bases loaded, nobody out) but couldn't quite pull it off. After getting Rod Barajas to fly out to shallow center and Jeff Francoeur to line out to short, Atilano left an 0-1 fastball up to Alex Cora and then watched as the Mets' No. 8 hitter crushed it off the right-field wall for a three-run triple. Could Michael Morse have caught the ball? Perhaps, though it would have been a really nice play. The damage kept coming, with Niese flopping a double down the left-field line to score Cora and make it 5-0. And with that, Atilano's night came to an abrupt end. Joel Peralta is now on the mound in mop-up duty after Atilano lasted only 3 2/3 innings. Worst outing by a Nats starter in quite a while.
8:26 p.m. -- Tonight's out-of-nowhere Cy Young clone vs. the Nats: Jonathon Niese. He just established a new career high with eight strikeouts. And we're only through four innings.
8:41 p.m. -- The Nats have recorded a base hit in each of this game's first five innings. And have yet to score one run. Once again, they're having trouble stringing multiple hits together. So it remains 5-0 Mets after five.
9:12 p.m. -- Sorry for the lack of updates here, but there really hasn't been much of anything worth updating for a while. This one has slogged along with no changes. Joel Peralta did a nice job tossing three scoreless innings of relief, but let's be honest: It's not like this was a "high-leverage" situation. The Nats have done nothing at the plate against Niese, who is now back on the mound for the bottom of the seventh, still holding a 5-0 lead that feels like a 15-run lead.
9:20 p.m. -- Hey, what do you know: The Nats are on the board! Josh Willingham hits a solo homer off Niese to lead off the seventh. It's now 5-1.
9:26 p.m. -- Ian Desmond with his MLB-leading 20th error of the season, unable to haul in Alex Cora's bouncer up the middle. Seeing as how this is Game 81 and all, that means Desmond is on pace to finish with 40 errors this year.
9:37 p.m. -- We go to the ninth. It's still 5-1. That is all.
10:04 p.m. -- Well, that got interesting (and then heartbreaking). The Nats scored twice in the ninth and forced Jerry Manuel to use closer Francisco Rodriguez. But with Willie Harris representing the winning run at the plate and with a full count, K-Rod picked Roger Bernadina off second base to end the game. Wow. So the Nats still end up losing 5-3. The first half of the season is complete with a 35-46 record. Thus, they're on pace to finish 70-92.