03/31/08 8:44 PM ET
Nationals show grit after seeing early lead vanish vs. Phils
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
The Nationals are 2-0 to start the season, and the last time they won their first two games to start the season was in 2003, when they were known as the Expos.
One thing appears to be certain: The Nationals are not going to have a stagnant offense, which finished last in runs scored last season. It helps they have Nick Johnson, Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge on the roster. None of them played on the team last year.
If they squander a lead, the Nationals have the firepower to come back and win a game. And it happened for the second straight game.
After blowing a 6-3 lead and allowing Philadelphia to tie the score at 6, Washington batted around for the second time in the game and scored five runs off reliever Tom Gordon in the ninth.
Johnson, Lo Duca, Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young highlighted the scoring with RBI doubles. The other run came in when catcher Carlos Ruiz threw the ball away trying to throw out Johnson at third base.
"Obviously, we are not going to score [that] many runs every day, but it's a more competitive lineup than we had last year," manager Manny Acta said. "We were able to turn the lineup around. We have a lot of depth off the bench, which could help later in the game."
At first, it looked like Milledge and Austin Kearns would be the heroes for Washington. The Nationals were down, 2-0, when they batted around in the fifth inning against right-hander Brett Myers. With the bases loaded, Zimmerman cut the lead to one when he hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score starter Matt Chico.
After Johnson walked to reload the bases, Kearns gave Washington a 3-2 lead as he doubled to right-center field to drive in Cristian Guzman and Milledge. Johnson then came in to score on an error by Jimmy Rollins.
"I think we are more capable of turning the lineup over like we did a couple of times," Kearns said. "We can have the big inning. That's something we struggled with a lot last year. Our chances are better this year."
In the sixth inning, with Ryan Madson on the mound, Guzman beat out a two-out infield single.
"That was huge," said Acta. "That was probably the play of the game. He hustles with two outs and he beat that out."
Milledge followed and hit a two-run home run over the left-center-field wall to increase the lead by four.
"We can play. We can hit. It just a matter of us all jelling together, hitting at the same time and scoring runs," Milledge said. "We are not getting down if somebody jumps out on us. We have guys that could bring us back into the game.
"We have it in our minds that we can come back. We don't care if a team ties it up or takes the lead. If we need a run or two, and we are going to bear down, we are going to get it. That's going to happen."
Whenever Acta went to his bullpen last year, it was almost a given the relievers would shut the door and preserve a victory. That almost didn't happen on Monday.
After Chico left the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, Washington had a 6-3 lead, but right-hander Joel Hanrahan and left-hander Ray King couldn't hold it.
With no outs in the seventh, Ruiz doubled to left-center field to drive in Jayson Werth. Hanrahan was taken out of the game in favor of King, and it looked like King might get out of the inning. He struck out Geoff Jenkins for the first out, but then King gave up a two-run homer to Rollins.
"During the seventh inning, I kind of lost my mechanics. I was flying open," Hanrahan said. "It shows you how quick the game can turn. With Ray coming in with a guy on second and nobody out, that's a tough situation. Ray did the best that he could. We'll bounce back. It's Game 2. We were fortunate to stay in the game."
Saul Rivera and Jesus Colome managed to shutdown the Phillies the rest of the way.
Acta said it was more of the Phillies' offense that allowed them to make their comeback against the Nationals' relievers.
"The Phillies can come back on any bullpen -- no matter how strong the bullpen is," Acta said. "They are a very good team. With [closer Chad] Cordero not [available], our bullpen is a little bit short. People are put in situations where normally, they would not be in. But we trust these guys and the season has started."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.