Nationals 3, Orioles 1
The burly right-hander pitched in and out of trouble. The bullpen preserved a small lead, with closer Chad Cordero finishing up. And the RFK Stadium stands were bouncing.
“It felt,” Cordero said, “just like last year.”
Exhorting his teammates in the field and on the basepaths, Hernandez snapped a seven-start winless streak and led Washington over the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 Sunday, giving the Nationals their first back-to-back home victories of 2006.
It also sealed a rare series win for Washington, which has claimed consecutive sets at RFK for the first time since June 2005. That was back when the Nationals were winning nine home series in a row on their way to a 50-31 start.
“Win a series and play good baseball. I like that. That was nice,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Matter of fact, it was fun, too.”
Hernandez (2-5) limited Baltimore to one run in seven innings, despite giving up four walks and six singles. He hadn’t earned a victory since April 8 at Houston, his second start of the season; Hernandez’s last drought that long came in 1999.
“Right now, everything is going good,” Hernandez said. “You see you today … the Livan that you know.”
He gave at least a tad of the credit for Sunday’s success to a change in routine. After getting home from the ballpark Saturday night, Hernandez decided at about 1 a.m. to head back out in search of a movie. He saw “Poseidon,” got home after 3 a.m., and so was kind of sleepy Sunday morning.
Still, he said he knew he had “to do something different.” After all, going into Sunday, that April outing in Houston was his only win in 14 starts dating to September. A year ago, Hernandez won 11 consecutive decisions in one stretch and was 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA on July 1, making the NL All-Star team. But he went 3-8 the rest of the way, hampered by a buildup of fluid in his right knee that forced him to change his mechanics and led to offseason surgery.
“It was good to see him pitch the way he pitched today,” Washington’s Jose Vidro said. “We definitely need him.”
Baltimore’s Melvin Mora, 1-for-4 against Hernandez, put it simply: “He was outstanding.”
Hernandez helped himself by driving in a run with a sacrifice bunt in the fourth, when Washington scored twice off Orioles starter Bruce Chen (0-5). Hernandez reached up to connect with a high pitch, and as he ran to first, he extended his left arm and wagged his hand toward the runner on third, Marlon Byrd, encouraging him to reach home.
On the mound, per his usual even when the going’s good, Hernandez repeatedly found himself in jams. At least two men reached base in four of the first five innings, and the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and Miguel Tejada coming up.
The 2002 AL MVP grounded to third, where Ryan Zimmerman had a tough time picking up the ball. He eventually grabbed it in time to dive to the bag for a forceout; the Orioles scored on the play to draw within 3-1.
Byrd later made a diving catch to end the inning, and Hernandez pounded his glove with his right fist as he skipped off the mound. The pitcher greeted Byrd with a high-five and a pat on the back.
“He’s one of those off-speed pitchers that you have to be really patient on,” Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said. “We weren’t as patient as we could’ve been.”
Hernandez also showed his appreciation in the seventh, pumping his right fist above his head when Zimmerman’s strong throw to first got Tejada to end the inning on Hernandez’s 120th and final pitch. Mike Stanton pitched a perfect eighth, and Cordero worked the ninth for his fifth save.
When it ended, the winners gathered in the infield, and the Nationals fans in the crowd of 32,152 rose for a standing ovation—common sights last spring, but not so much during Washington’s 3-11 home start this year.
“It definitely feels a lot better, man,” Vidro said with a smile. “Beer tastes a lot better.”
Nationals LF Alfonso Soriano singled twice and was intentionally walked twice. In the first, he stole second and third en route to scoring. … Chen gave up three runs and seven hits over four innings. … Hernandez’s four strikeouts included three of Orioles 1B Jeff Conine. … RHP Hayden Penn will be brought up from the minors to start Tuesday for Baltimore at Seattle. RHP Julio Manon was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa.