Loaiza shows Jays the NL way

Loaiza shows Jays the NL way

WASHINGTON -- With President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in attendance, right-hander Esteban Loaiza pitched six solid innings, drove in two runs and helped the Nationals blank the Blue Jays, 3-0, in front of 36,689 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on Friday night.

Loaiza (3-5) had missed a turn in the rotation last Sunday because of a stiff neck and back of the shoulder. He was still in some pain on Friday, but one would have never realized by the way he was pitching. Loaiza gave up only six hits, while striking out five batters and walking one.

"I still have a little bit of pain," Loaiza said. "I wanted to go out there and not overthrow. But everything turned out well and now I have to wait for my next outing."

The only sign of trouble occurred in the top of the sixth inning. The Blue Jays had runners on first and second and no outs, but Aaron Hill popped out to second baseman Junior Spivey, Vernon Wells struck out looking and Eric Hinske grounded out to second base to end the inning.

"[With two runners on base], you don't know if they are bunting or not. You know it's an American League team," catcher Brian Schneider said. "Getting that first out was big because it put us in a double-play situation. And we went from there. We got the outs when we needed it."

Loaiza helped himself with the bat against Blue Jays starter Josh Towers in the second inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Loaiza took the first pitch and doubled down the left-field line to score Vinny Castilla and Spivey.

The last time Loaiza drove in a run was back on July 2, 1998, against the Tigers. Loaiza was a member of the Pirates at the time.

"It's has been a long time since I drove in a run," Loaiza said. "[Towers] threw a slider over the plate. I was going to take the pitch, but after looking at the outfielders, I figured he was going to come up with a first-pitch strike, and I just wanted to make contact."

The two-run double was ironic because the Nationals have had problems scoring for Loaiza. They are averaging 2.55 runs for Loaiza, the fourth lowest in the Major Leagues this season. Manager Frank Robinson believes the game would have been much tighter if Loaiza didn't drive in those runs.

"If he didn't get the hit, that would been a real battle out there," Robinson said. "Esteban swings the bat decently. He can put the bat on the ball on certain pitches. But that was a typical game. We don't score when he's out there."

Brad Wilkerson added to the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning when he hit a solo home run over the right-field wall against Justin Speier. It was Wilkerson's fifth home run of the season

"I made a couple of weak swings with two strikes," Wilkerson said. "He made a pretty good pitch on me. It's not a pitch that you usually drive out. I hit it right in the screws and it felt really good off the bat."

Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero shut out the Blue Jays the rest of the way with Cordero picking up his 24th save.

By winning the game, it meant that Loaiza moved past Ismael Valdez for second place in wins for Mexican-born pitchers with 103. Loaiza now trails Fernando Valenzuela, who has 173 victories.

Loaiza had no idea about his most recent accomplishment until a reporter gave him the news.

"It gives me goose bumps. It's special. Now I have to get more wins and see how far I could go in my career," Loaiza said. "I never thought I would be in the big leagues or be where I'm at right now. I want to go out there and play."

The Nationals have now won 11 consecutive games at home and improved their home record to 25-9. Overall, the Nationals are 43-30 and in first place in the National League East, four games ahead of the Braves.

"We just feel good coming home off the road and playing before the fans [at RFK Stadium]. We feel very comfortable here and we are having very good success," Robinson said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.