WASHINGTON (AP)—Jim Bowden strode into the Washington Nationals clubhouse, the door slamming shut behind him.
The general manager had just finished watching his team get shut out for the second straight game against a surprise starter, and his defense and pitching weren’t exactly stellar, either, in Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Several minutes later, on a ramp below the stands at RFK Stadium, Bowden described himself as “angry, frustrated, disappointed” and ripped his team’s performance.
“It was pathetic,” the GM said. “We gave them this game today. This is embarrassing. We gave them those runs.”
Turning his attention to the hitters, scoreless over 21 innings, Bowden said: “This isn’t a problem of one guy or two guys. We have an embarrassing problem of all eight. Zero offense.”
Instead, it was Cal Eldred who made his first start since 2001 on Sunday and combined with four St. Louis relievers to limit the Nationals to four singles. Washington scraped out two singles in Saturday’s 6-0 defeat against Jason Marquis, who stopped a seven-start losing streak with the first shutout of his career.
“You shouldn’t play like this at home. It’s not acceptable,” manager Frank Robinson said.
“We all stink,” cleanup hitter Jose Guillen said. “We’re just looking like Little League players.”
How out of sorts are the Nationals at the plate? Guillen decided on his own to try a bunt with runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth inning.
“Trying to make something happen,” he said, “and it didn’t work out the way I wanted.”
“We need to not do those types of things,” Brad Wilkerson said. “When you’ve got your best hitter at the plate, and you’re struggling to score some runs, we need him swinging the bat.”
“I always say you don’t just win with homers. You need a bunt, you need a hit-and-run, you need a steal,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Those are the little things that helped us out to win 105 games last year and those are the things that are helping us out this year to win some games.”
Washington’s own spot starter, John Halama (0-1), turned in five strong innings. But in the sixth, the Cardinals scored three runs despite only one solidly hit ball. An error, two walks, a double steal and a couple of close plays did the rest. They added three in the eighth.
The key play in the sixth came with Edmonds on third, and the slower Yadier Molina on first. With So Taguchi up, the Cardinals put on a double steal. Backup catcher Gary Bennett’s throw to second was cut off by backup second baseman Jamey Carroll. But his throw home was up the third-base line as Edmonds barreled into Bennett, and Carroll was charged with an error.
“In that situation, I’ve just got to realize what’s going on there and not make the throw,” Bennett said. “Those are the kind of mistakes we can’t afford to make.”
Taguchi hit a comebacker, but the ball ricocheted away from reliever Hector Carrasco, and his throw to first was too late. The unearned run made it 3-0, drawing boos from the announced crowd of 41,130.
The Nationals have the worst offense in baseball, last in nearly every major category, including runs and batting average. That’s why they’ve been losing despite strong pitching and being on pace to set franchise records for fewest errors and fewest unearned runs allowed in a season.
After leading the NL East by 5 1/2 games on July 3, Washington has dropped to last place, seven games behind Atlanta heading into a four-game series at the Braves.
“It’s either put up or shut up now,” Wilkerson said. “I hope guys aren’t giving up.”
Bowden issued a challenge to his players, noting that rosters can be expanded Thursday.
“They all know by the last game in Atlanta there’s going to be enough choices for Frank that he doesn’t have to play any of them if he doesn’t want to,” Bowden said.
“Be a man, wake up and do some damage or guess what? After that, Frank can do whatever he can do. By the time it gets to Thursday, they’re not hitting, he might as well put other people in there. There’s a lot of guys who can score no runs a game.”
Cardinals SS David Eckstein hit two doubles and scored twice. … Pujols was ejected after he was caught stealing. … Edmonds banged his right knee against one of Bennett’s shin guards but expects to play Monday at Florida.