Mets 7, Nationals 1

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WASHINGTON (AP)—No brawls, beanballs or even brushbacks Tuesday between the Nationals and Mets.

No sellout and no bouncing stands, either, at Washington’s home opener, which was much more low key in just about every way than last season, when big league baseball returned after a 34-year absence to plenty of fanfare.

The announced crowd of 40,530—more than 5,000 shy of capacity—didn’t have much reason to root, root, root for the home team. Rookie Brian Bannister shut down Washington’s struggling offense again for his first major league victory, and Carlos Beltran homered off the facing of the upper deck, leading the Mets past the Nationals 7-1.

“This is a team that is built to win,” said Bannister, whose father, Floyd, pitched in the majors. “I knew my role was to come in here and to lay low, to just eat up innings, to pitch any game they needed me to pitch, and to just give this team a chance to win every time. It wasn’t to come in here and take over the show.”

But he did precisely that Tuesday, giving up three hits without a walk over seven innings. The lone run he allowed was on Alfonso Soriano’s homer in the seventh; last week in New York, the right-hander held the Nationals hitless for 5 1-3 innings in his big league debut.

During that series at Shea Stadium, seven batters were hit—six by Mets pitchers—and a near-fight ensued. Nationals right-hander Felix Rodriguez and manager Frank Robinson were suspended by Major League Baseball; before Tuesday’s game, Robinson said, both managers were told umpires would watch all season for any sign of trouble when the NL East rivals meet.

“It was basically a warning: They have control of the game. It’s up to them. It’s what they feel about a certain pitch, and they don’t have to wait to put in a warning,” Robinson said. “Word is, there’s bad blood between the two ballclubs, and every time we play they’re going to put out a warning to the umpires.”

Players played down the possible tension before the game, though Bannister (1-0) acknowledged afterward it was on his mind.

“At the beginning of the game, I was a little timid throwing inside,” he said. “Especially with Soriano, we did pitch away. As I got more comfortable, we started going back in.”

No batter had to dive out of the way of an up-and-in heater. The only person who appeared to get nicked by a ball was plate umpire Brian O’Nora, when a foul tip bounced up and hit him below his mask.

There was one prominently displayed reminder of the shenanigans at Shea. Someone ripped a page out of a New York tabloid with the headline “Old Brawl Game” and attached it to the greaseboard outside the Nationals’ clubhouse. Written below, in blue marker and all capital letters: “Strap it on!”

More interesting, perhaps, will be Wednesday, when Pedro Martinez starts. He hit three Nationals with pitches last week, including Jose Guillen twice. Since that game, Guillen is 3-for-18, 0-for-4 Tuesday, and his struggles are emblematic of an offense that has totaled eight runs in three games, all losses.

“He’s trying to do a little too much right now,” Robinson said.

That might be the case up and down Washington’s lineup.

While Bannister was in control throughout, Nationals starter Ramon Ortiz (0-2) found himself in trouble repeatedly, giving up four runs and eight hits in six innings. The Mets outhit Washington 12-3, and even Bannister got his first major league hit—two, actually.

Ortiz “gave up the first two (runs), and it’s almost like we’re out of the ballgame, the way our offense is going,” Robinson said.

Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner each threw a hitless inning in relief for New York, which improved to 5-1. Wagner walked three and loaded the bases in the ninth, but struck out rookie Ryan Zimmerman to escape.

Washington fell to 2-6, and the Nationals’ first home game of their second season since leaving Montreal was definitely diminished.

A year ago, there was a sellout. There were large patches of empty seats Tuesday when Vice President Dick Cheney emerged to mainly boos and scattered applause for the ceremonial first pitch. Last season, it was President Bush who did the honors. Last year, commissioner Bud Selig was at the game; this year, baseball’s No. 2 official, Bob DuPuy, was in attendance.

“It would have been more exciting,” Zimmerman said, “if we would have won.”


Mets 3B David Wright has at least one RBI in each of the Mets’ first six games, a club record to start a season. … Nationals 2B Jose Vidro went 0-for-4. He had at least one hit in all seven prior games.

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