WASHINGTON (AP) -- The late afternoon shadows gradually crept
across the RFK Stadium grass, the ripest conditions possible for a
pitching masterpiece. Esteban Loaiza obliged with a sharp but
unsupported gem, only to see it come undone in the ninth inning.
Loaiza matched his career high with 11 strikeouts before Jimmy
Rollins broke a scoreless tie with a leadoff homer in the ninth,
and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Washington Nationals 3-0
Wednesday."A lot of my outings, just one bad pitch cost me the game,"
Loaiza said, "and it cost me the game today."Rollins pulled the pitch -- a fastball that drifted inside -- just
over the right-field fence and into the Phillies' bullpen for his
third homer of the season. It was the only extra-base hit in a game
that had Loaiza and counterpart Brett Myers looking like All-Stars
and left frustrated batters ruing the 4:35 p.m. EDT start time."You can't even see the ball," Nationals third baseman Vinny
Castilla said. "You see a black dot coming at you. You can't see
the spin on the ball, nothing. That was very tough."Myers allowed four hits, walked three and struck out seven
before leaving for a pinch hitter after seven innings. He allowed a
man on base every inning but one, but he never allowed two on base
at the same time."Probably in about the third inning, I finally said: 'To heck
with it, I'm going to let them hit the ball because it was hard to
see," Myers said. "After my first at-bat, I was like 'I don't
know how any guys are fouling balls off because I couldn't even
see.' Any pitch that got up close to me, I had no shot at even
hitting it. I was basically just closing my eyes and swinging."While Myers was good, he was nowhere as good as Loaiza, who
allowed four hits and faced just three batters over the minimum
before the ninth inning. He again looked like the pitcher who won
21 games for the Chicago White Sox two years ago."It was the '03 Loaiza," Loaiza said. "Everything was for
strikes."Yet his record fell to 0-2."You don't want to spoil that type of performance from a
starting pitcher," center fielder Ryan Church said. "That's all
you can ask of the guy."Loaiza was even dressed for success. At his request, the
Washington Nationals were the D.C. Nationals for a day, wearing
their red jerseys with the interlocking "DC" logo for the first
time. He said he just "wanted to do something different" than
wear the team's usual white or gray uniforms.Myers, who rejoined the team Tuesday after his wife gave birth
to the couple's second child, had an adventurous start -- walking
two in the first inning, but he picked off Brad Wilkerson before
walking Church. Myers then made a two-base error attempting to pick
off Church, but Church was stranded at third when Jose Vidro struck
out and Jose Guillen grounded out.After seven innings, Myers was replaced by Rheal Cormier (1-1),
who worked a perfect eighth inning for the victory. Billy Wagner
pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to finish the four-hitter for his fifth save.
The Phillies, struggling coming into Washington, took two of three
in the series."What I liked about the game is that we stayed right there,"
manager Charlie Manuel said. "We hung right in there and battled
them right to the end. When we get against a guy who's throwing
good like Loaiza was today, that's exactly what I want to see.
We're going to hit, don't you worry about that."After Rollins' homer, Kenny Lofton singled to chase Loaiza.
Later in the inning, pinch-hitter David Bell singled off reliever
Luis Ayala to score Bobby Abreu, and Placido Polanco singled home
Jim Thome to cap the three-run inning."Loaiza pitched an outstanding game, and we came away with a
loss," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "We cannot afford
to lose games like that."
Loaiza struck out 11 twice previously: April 17, 2003, with
the Chicago White Sox against Kansas City, and July 8, 2001, with
Toronto against Milwaukee. ... Lofton, who has been battling a
nagging hamstring injury, was back in the starting lineup in center
field. ... Manuel gave Bell, hitting just .211 going into the game,
a break from the starting lineup. Polanco started at third instead.
... Nationals' 1B Nick Johnson missed the game with a bruised thigh
after fouling a pitch off his leg the night before.