Nationals Drop Home Opener to Mets

By Carla Peay
Updated: April 12, 2006

WASHINGTON — “It’s exciting. You’re anxious. A little nervous. There’s a little anxiety there, you’re anxious to get going. There’s nothing like it. It’s a special day. A very special day.”

Those were the sentiments of Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who has seen 51 such days during his hall-of-fame career as a player and manager in Major League Baseball.

After beginning the season with a seven game road trip, and amassing a 2-5 record, the Nationals players were no doubt just as anxious to play before a home crowd as their manager was.

The home opener, played on Tuesday at RFK stadium on breezy 70 degree afternoon, was a far cry from last season’s opener. The first pitch was thrown out by Vice President Dick Cheney, not by President Bush. It was played in the sunshine of the afternoon, not under the lights. The crowd was not a sell-out. The home team did not come away with a victory.

And at no point during the game did the fans make the stands bounce. Was the relative lack of buzz for this season’s opener a concern for the Nationals manager?

“The way you’re going to keep the excitement here is by winning. That’s in any city, basically. You want to win to keep the fans coming. Your good, hard core baseball people are going to come. It’s the extra people that would rather stay at home when you’re not playing well who will listen to it on radio or watch it on TV, those are the ones that you attract and bring out to the ballpark when you’re winning and on a good streak and playing good baseball, and that’s what we have to do”, said Robinson.

Unfortunately, the friendly confines of RFK and a home town crowd did little to help the Nationals on field woes. The offense was particularly ineffective, posting only three hits. The lone bright spot – a solo home run by new left fielder Alfonso Soriano in the seventh inning.

Starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz pitched three good innings, followed by two bad ones. Mets starter Brian Bannister had his second quality outing against the Nationals. The final score – Mets 7, Nationals 1.

Having already dropped two of three to the Mets on the road last week, a bad blood rivalry seems to be forming between the two teams. After playing a particularly contentious game against Mets starter Pedro Martinez during which Martinez hit several Nationals players, Jose Guillen twice, a bench clearing melee resulted, followed by several suspensions and an apparent no-tolerance policy by the umpires for future contests between the two teams this season.

Martinez was on the mound for Wednesday’s contest, while the Nationals countered with Tony Armas Jr.

Meanwhile, the new look Mets, with the off-season acquisitions of catcher Paul LoDuca and first baseman Carlos Delgado added to a lineup already containing star outfielder Carlos Beltran and third baseman David Wright, seem poised to make some noise in the National league East this season.

“I hope we’re going to the playoffs. I hope we win more games than last year. I think as a whole we’re going in a direction of youth and in a direction of speed”, said Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. As for the pundits who have begun calling David Wright the new Derek Jeter?

“David Wright is the new David Wright”, Minaya says with a smile. As for the Nationals 2-6 start? It’s way too early to panic.

“We struggled with the bats today. It’s the second time in a row we haven’t hit well against Bannister. Hopefully we can come back tomorrow and win one for the fans. We’ve played some pretty good teams. It’s no excuse for not winning, because we’ve been in some ballgames and had some chances, but we just need to find a way to win”, said catcher Brian Schneider.

“We just need to continue to play hard. It’s still early. We have a long season ahead of us. We can’t get down on ourselves. We have to come out and compete”, said center fielder Brandon Watson.

“It’s April 11th. What place are we in, third, fourth? That’s my point. It doesn’t matter. We’re fine. If there’s such a thing as good bad baseball, I kind of like the way we’re playing bad right now. We can play tons better than we’re playing right now and we’re still in games. When we start to catch our groove, I think you’ll see a big difference between us and other teams. If there’s such a thing as good bad baseball, I’ll take it right now”, said left-handed reliever Joey Eischen, one of the team’s most candid and eloquent players.

For the Nats to draw two-million plus again this season, this brand of ‘good-bad baseball’ will have to become good baseball while the honeymoon between this team and this city still exists.