Orioles 4, Nationals 3: Can we play these guys every day?

On the way to a 22-52 record entering today's game, the Orioles' 2010 season has been chock full of the kind of errors that were frequently on display today. A misplayed fly ball allowed the Washington Nationals to score first, and multiple baserunning blunders cost the Orioles chances to score runs. An Orioles starter pitched well enough to have a chance to win but was let down yet again by poor bullpen performance and futility with runners in scoring position

Hang on a second. I'm too used to writing about losses. There was a misplayed flyball and there were baserunning miscues, but in the end the Nationals proved that they are who we thought they were and we did not let them off the hook. Though the ingredients were there, an agonizing defeat did not materialize today, as the Birds followed the same script from the first two games of the series to earn their fourth straight victory - the longest winning streak the team has mustered all season.

Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie cruised through the first three innings but allowed a leadoff walk to Ryan Zimmerman to start off the fourth. After striking out Adam Dunn, he induced a fly ball to center from Josh Willingham that should have easily been the second out. Adam Jones totally misplayed the ball, though, and was unable to get his body behind the deep drive so when he dove and missed it was an easy, run-scoring triple. Guthrie then made like Guthrie and gave up a home run to Roger Bernadina to put the Orioles in a 3-0 hole.

The deficit didn't last for long. In the bottom of the fifth the Orioles touched up Nats starter Luis Atilano for three runs. Luke Scott and Jones doubled on back-to-back first pitches, and Matt Wieters and Scott Moore followed with back-to-back first pitch singles. For all the team's first pitch hacking has caused fans grief thus far this season, here was one inning where it worked out. This left the score at 3-2 with Julio Lugo coming to the plate. He tried his best to GIDP but Moore barreled into second base with a brilliant take-out slide. Wieters scored after an ill-advised relay throw by Adam Kennedy sailed into the dugout.

The Nats lead the league in errors and that was their 68th on the season. This is the second game in this series where either the tying or go-ahead run scored off a throwing error.

On bad baserunning: Miguel Tejada was thrown out by about ten miles trying to stretch a single to right into a double in the bottom of the fourth. This was stupid but not the most egregious mistake seen all day. After doubling with one out in the eighth, fan-favorite Lugo (that's me being sarcastic, don't kill me) immediately got himself picked off second base. He started towards third on a pitch, changed his mind, slipped on the way back to second and was thrown out by Wil Nieves. So, naturally he was not on second to score the go-ahead run when Corey Patterson doubled. Fortunately, with only two outs Tejada had no way to hit into a double play so instead he singled to center to give the O's a 4-3 lead - on 4-7 hitting with RISP on the day.

For the third straight game the bullpen did not allow a run. This was no sure thing in the eighth inning as Will Ohman faced three batters and gave up two base hits, but David Hernandez was summoned and he snuffed out the Nationals' hopes. The box score will tell you that he threw six pitches for six strikes and got two strikeouts, but even that doesn't do it justice. Neither Willingham nor Bernadina ever had a chance. The game time temperature at Camden Yards was 94 degrees, but Hernandez had the most impressive heat of the day. He blew his fastballs by them and mowed them down effortlessly. Alfredo Simon pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his 9th save of the year.

Manager Juan Samuel was asked after the game about Lugo's being picked off and whether there was a missed sign. His response: "That was not a smart play. There was no missed signal. That just wasn't a smart play." For O's fans, this quote would seem right at home in a lament of yet another loss. One might hope there will be consequences beyond just a few critical sentences in a press conference.

Fortunately, today the Birds were playing the Nats, who after overachieving early in the season are crashing back down to earth. Their sad, southward journey in the standings is mirrored in the sad, southward bus ride they will be taking home from Baltimore after being swept out of town.

With this game, the 2010 interleague schedule has concluded and the Orioles managed a 7-11 record in those 18 games. After an off day tomorrow, the Oakland Athletics (36-40 and 10 games behind Texas going into today's games) come to town on Tuesday for the start of a three-game series.

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