Nationals’ Ortiz Flirts With Immortality

By Carla Peay
Updated: September 5, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With dwindling crowds, post season play not an option and a last place record in their division, fans might wonder what reason there is to keep coming to RFK Stadium to see the Nationals play. Yes, they have all-star Alfonso Soriano and rookie of the year candidate Ryan Zimmerman.

But this still scrappy team showed the fans even more reasons this Labor Day weekend. Fresh off of three exciting come from behind victories in a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Washington Nationals extended their winning streak to five games with a two hit gem on Labor Day against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz gave up three walks and recorded five strikeouts while pitching a stellar game, taking a no-hitter into the top of the ninth inning. It was broken up by a single to center field by shortstop Aaron Miles. Left fielder Chris Duncan followed with a line drive hit right at Nick Johnson, who doubled Miles off of first base.

Then, the shutout was history as Cardinals all-star first baseman Albert Pujols connected for his 43rd home run of the season, his fourth in two games. Ortiz was then pulled from the game, tipping his cap to a standing ovation from the crowd of just over 31,000, as closer Chad Cordero came on to get the last out by striking out Scott Rolen.

And, as if his pitching performance weren’t enough, Ortiz also hit the first home run of his career, a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“I told him he pitched a tremendous ballgame,” said Nationals manager Frank Robinson. “I think the last thing I said to him was ‘nice hit’. It wasn’t a no-hitter, but he pitched an excellent ballgame. He wasn’t threatened by the Cardinals.”

Robinson was asked about his decision to pull Ortiz following the Pujols homer instead of leaving him in for the complete game victory. “I wanted him to leave with a good feeling today. I didn’t want him to have any more stress and strain than he had already, just let him enjoy the moment.”

National’s general manager Jim Bowden certainly did.“For every fan, for every media member, for every player, for every coach, for every manager, there’s nothing like it,” said Bowden of Ortiz’s near no-hitter.

“It’s nice to finish strong. It shows your character. How you finish tells you a lot about human beings, and how you’re building for next year, and certainly this five game run shows you a lot about their spirit and how hard they play,” added Bowden.

It was hard to tell from a smiling Ortiz which was more exciting for him, a win, a near no-hitter, or his first career homerun.“When I hit that ball, I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s a home run’. I said ‘yes’. It’s unbelievable”.

“I [won’t] sleep tonight. It was unbelievable today. We got everything today. We hit home runs, and [I threw] a good game. We played the way we have to play. We won the game. I’m very happy,” said Ortiz.

There were few smiles in the Cardinals clubhouse however, after being two-hit by a team that is 17 games under .500 while they are in a playoff chase. Despite his explosive homerun streak of late, Pujols made it clear he would have preferred a win.

“It doesn’t matter, we got the loss. I would take 0 for 3 and take the win,” said Pujols, adding that Ortiz kept them off balance all afternoon.

Rookie of the year candidate Ryan Zimmerman has a 10 game hitting streak. Alfonso Soriano is shooting for an unprecedented 50 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 20 outfield assists (his current totals are 44, 36 and 19). The team has a five game winning streak.

And on a sunny Labor Day afternoon, Ramon Ortiz pitches 8 innings of no-hit ball, the longest no-hit streak in the majors this season, against the perennial powerhouse of the national league central, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Nationals may finish the season in last place, but they’re not going down without a fight.