Nationals 11, Mets 4
“I worked a perfect bullpen,” he said.
Then he worked a not-so perfect first inning. After facing four batters, Hernandez had given up four hits and three runs on a bases-loaded double by Mike Piazza. It looked like it would be a short day for the Nationals starter.
Seven innings later, he left without allowing another run in an 11-4 Washington victory.
So what changed?
“My mechanics,” Hernandez said. “I stopped trying to be too cute. If I try to be too cute, it’s trouble for me. You want to be perfect. I didn’t want to make a lot of mistakes. But you know, it’s only one inning. I was trying to stay in the game and make my pitches work a little bit.”
Hernandez allowed two more hits in the second and third and then settled in, retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, before turning the game over to the Nationals bullpen.
The Nationals had a season-high 17 hits, four each by Vinny Castilla and Brad Wilkerson, who had a two-run homer. The win halted a three-game Washington losing streak and ended a three-game winning streak for the Mets.
“It was a win we needed badly,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “The momentum was going down. We were not in a very good state of mind.”
The Nationals had dropped five of six after winning eight of their first 12 games. Equally as troubling was the team’s inability to score early. Washington had just three first-inning runs all season, but scored three in the first Sunday.
“I liked the way the club came out today,” Robinson said.
Hernandez’s shaky start erased the early lead, but that was all right with the manager.
“We were back where we started,” Robinson said. “We’re even.”
By the time Wilkerson’s homer gave the Nationals a 6-3 lead in the fourth, the Mets had missed their chance to get to Hernandez before he settled in.
“We had an opportunity to score some more runs early,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “He shut us down. He’s a good pitcher and he got in a groove.”
Washington bunched five hits for three runs in the first inning against Mets starter Victor Zambrano (1-2).
Wilkerson opened with a double and after Nick Johnson walked, Jose Vidro singled. Wilkerson was thrown out trying to score by right fielder Victor Diaz. Jose Guillen’s sacrifice fly scored Johnson before singles by Terrmel Sledge and Castilla loaded the bases. Gary Bennett followed with a single, delivering two runs.
The Mets came right back in the bottom of the first against Hernandez.
Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran beat out bunts for hits sandwiched around a single by Kaz Matsui, loading the bases. Piazza, who left nine runners stranded on Saturday, delivered this time with a double that cleared the bases and tied the score. Two more walks loaded the bases again, but Diaz, who had four hits Saturday, hit into an inning-ending double play.
In the third, Vidro walked and reached third on an error by David Wright. Sledge then hit into a double play as Vidro scored the go-ahead run. An inning later, Zambrano hit Hernandez in the hip and Wilkerson followed with a two-run homer for a 6-3 Nationals lead.
Washington knocked Zambrano out of the game in the sixth. He walked Wilkerson and hit Johnson with a pitch. Manny Aybar relieved and Vidro doubled, scoring Wilkerson. Then Johnson came home on Guillen’s second sacrifice fly. Guillen and Castilla both doubled in runs in the eighth.
Washington’s three-run first inning matched the total number of runs scored in the opening inning by the Nationals in their first 18 games this season. … The Nationals stole four bases in four attempts.