Nats come up short in sweep attempt

Nationals come up short in sweep attempt

SAN FRANCISCO -- A ninth-inning rally fell a little short as the Nationals were edged by the Giants, 8-6, in front of 38,283 fans at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon.

The loss broke the Nationals' modest two-game winning streak and dropped their record to 48-60. Washington became the fourth team to reach 60 losses this season.

Washington was down, 8-3, going into the ninth inning, but it was able to get to reliever Brad Hennessey. With one out and runners on second and third, Ryan Zimmerman grounded to second baseman Ray Durham, but Alfonso Soriano scored on the play to cut the deficit to four runs.

Nick Johnson followed and stunned the crowd by hitting a two-run home run over the left-field wall to make it a two-run game. Giants manager Felipe Alou then took Hennessey out of the game and, to the dismay of the fans, put in right-hander Armando Benitez to close it out. Benitez had blown his last three save opportunities, and it looked like he would blow a fourth. Benitez walked Austin Kearns.

Alou immediately took Benitez out of the game in favor of left-hander Mike Stanton, who had not saved a game since 2003 when he was with the Mets. Manager Frank Robinson put in Alex Escobar to pinch-hit for Ryan Church. Escobar has been the one of the Nationals' hottest hitters, but home-plate umpire Rob Drake called Escobar out on strikes to end the game. The pitch looked like a breaking ball that ended up on the outside part of the plate. Escobar disagreed with the call, but walked back into the dugout without further incident.

"I was surprised. It was a tough pitch to call a strike, but he was in good position," Escobar said. "[Stanton] threw different pitches than what I was told. He made some good pitches and he beat me."

Robinson was at a loss for words after the game. He wasn't bothered that San Francisco right-hander Jason Schmidt dominated the Nationals in six innings, but he didn't like the fact that the pitching was virtually nonexistent on Washington's end.

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr. had his second consecutive bad outing. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings and gave up six runs on eight hits. Armas has now given up 12 runs in his last 6 2/3 innings.

Armas was given a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Soriano hit a leadoff home run. But the Giants would have the lead by the third inning. With the score tied at 1, Moises Alou gave the Nationals a 2-1 edge with an infield single that drove in Steve Finley.

In the next inning, the Giants scored four runs. Alou's homer highlighted the scoring when he hit a two-run double off reliever Saul Rivera. All four runs were charged to Armas.

In the past three-plus seasons, whenever Armas has a bad outing, it's usually a sign that he is seriously hurt, but both Robinson and Armas said that the latter is healthy.

"He is just not able to locate his pitches consistently. It looks like when he gets in trouble, he becomes a thrower instead of using his head and pitching," Robinson said.

Armas said he is simply struggling on the mound.

"I feel good with every pitch. It just seems every pitch I throw, I don't know what's coming. That kind of frustrates you," he said. "I don't think the location is bad. Things are not going good, I guess. I feel good. My velocity is up. Everything is there."

After Soriano hit a two-run homer to make it a 6-3 game, reliever Ryan Wagner gave up solo home runs to Alou and Shea Hillenbrand.

"I made a bad 0-2 pitch to Alou. The slider is supposed to be down and away. I left it over the plate," Wagner said. "To Hillenbrand, I was going for the inside part of the plate. It was a little up. He is a good hitter. I left it up a little and he got ahold of it."

Since Wagner arrived this week from Triple-A New Orleans, he has given up five runs in 2 2/3 innings. Wagner came from the Reds in the Kearns and Felipe Lopez trade on July 13, and general manager Jim Bowden said, at the time, that Wagner needed to straighten out his pitching mechanics.

After two weeks with the Nationals, Wagner acknowledged that he is still working on changing his arm slot. When he was with the Reds, Wagner threw over the top. The Nationals are now trying to get him to throw three-quarters.

"I'm still working on things. I'm starting to get good movement back on the ball. It's just trying to fine-tune things, get location back and get where I need to be," Wagner said.

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