Nats' Ortiz flirts with no-hitter in victory

Nats' Ortiz flirts with no-no in victory

WASHINGTON -- Jose Rijo, the special assistant to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, was in Washington the last few days and he was set to travel back to the Dominican Republic on Sunday, but right-hander Ramon Ortiz wanted his mentor to stick around for another day to watch him pitch.

It was a good thing Rijo stayed in Washington. He watched Ortiz pitch one of the best games in Nationals history on Monday. Ortiz came within three outs of throwing the team's first no-hitter since moving to Washington in a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Ortiz was on a personal three-game losing streak and he had given up 22 earned runs in his last 16 1/3 innings.

"I was leaving [Sunday] and he said, 'You have to stay here for me.' So I ended up staying," Rijo said.

Had he pitched the no-hitter, Ortiz would have become the first pitcher in franchise history to throw a no-hitter since Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game for the Expos against the Dodgers on July 28, 1991.

As each inning passed, no member of the Nationals mentioned that Ortiz had a no-hitter. In fact, Ortiz never looked at the scoreboard to check on how he was doing.

"I never saw the scoreboard today. When I was throwing a no-hitter, I didn't want to see it," Ortiz said. "Everybody was quiet. Everybody was happy."

Ortiz topped it off by hitting a solo home run against Jorge Sosa in the eighth inning to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead. In his first two at-bats against St. Louis starter Jason Marquis, Ortiz saw nothing but breaking balls. Sosa, on the other hand, threw a high fastball on the inside part of the plate and Ortiz hit it over the left-field wall. Ortiz raised his hands in excitement as he rounded the bases and clapped as he reached the dugout before receiving a curtain call from the fans.

"When I hit the home run, I said, 'Oh my god, it's a home run.' I said, 'Yes.' It's unbelievable. I can sleep tonight. We [were throwing] a no-hitter. I hit a home run."

Ortiz wasn't the only one that was excited. General manager Bowden was seen throwing paper out of his GM box into the stands. After the game, Bowden gave Ortiz a bottle of Dom Perignon and poured water on his head during a postgame interview.

"We are very proud of his accomplishment. It's his work ethic that he shows before and after games, [and it] certainly showed up today," Bowden said.

The eighth inning lasted a long time as the Nationals scored an additional run on a Nick Johnson double. Ortiz said the long eighth inning did not bother his rhythm, but St. Louis shortstop Aaron Miles led off the ninth inning with a line-drive single on an 0-1 pitch. Ironically, it was Miles, then a member of Class A Quad Cities, who made the last out when Ortiz threw a no-hitter for Cedar Rapids on Aug. 7, 1997.

"You've got to tip your hat to him because he was hitting his spots with consistency. First-pitch strikes were on the corners. He kept the ball down," Miles said. "I don't consider him a guy that can throw a no-hitter. But he almost did it today."

Miles was later erased when Chris Duncan lined out to first baseman Johnson for a double play.

Ortiz then gave up a solo home run to Albert Pujols on a 2-1 pitch. That was only Ortiz's 95th pitch of the game, but manager Frank Robinson had seen enough. As Robinson was walking toward the mound, the 31,042 fans were booing Robinson because they wanted Ortiz to complete the game, but Robinson wanted his pitcher to leave on a positive note. The skipper spoke to his right-hander for a moment, praising Ortiz about the great job that he done.

"What's one complete game? I wanted him to leave with a good feeling today. I didn't want him to have any more stress or strain than he had already and just let him enjoy the moment," Robinson said.

Ortiz struck out five batters and walked three in the game. None of the players he walked reached scoring position.

"I never have any problem giving credit where credit is due. He was outstanding," Manager Tony La Russa said. "He kept controlling the counts, got strike one with a real good pitch and then got better after that. We didn't have a whole lot to hit. I thought he looked good the whole time. But even when he walked a few guys ... then, if you took strike one, he got nastier and nastier. So we tried to jump him before he got too deep in the count. He didn't throw the ball over the middle. He pitched very well."

With Ortiz doing so well on the mound, Pedro Astacio wants Rijo to stick around another day. Maybe the same good luck will fall on Astacio, who has lost his last two decisions.

"Astacio said, 'You stayed for Ramon. Can you stay for me?' So I'm going to stay another day," Rijo said.

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