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Nats' run at home ends in a 9-5 loss


WASHINGTON - It was getting late in the game and the Washington Nationals had the Toronto Blue Jays right where they wanted them.

That is, the Nationals were trailing.

Washington, baseball's best statistical come-from-behind club, had already eliminated two deficits in the game and seemed poised to erase a third.

But even escape artists like the Nationals can't maneuver their way out of every predicament. Yesterday, their bullpen put them into one too many jams and Washington fell, 9-5, ending its 12-game home winning streak one shy of the franchise record.

In addition to losing the game, the Nationals lost RBI leader Nick Johnson to a heel injury suffered when he stepped awkwardly around Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun during a seventh-inning scoring play. Although the club hoped it was just a bruise, Johnson was having trouble putting weight on the heel and was transported to Washington Hospital Center to see whether there was a crack or other serious injury, according to team doctor Bruce Thomas.

The Nationals, who have placed 16 players on the disabled list this year, are already awaiting the return of second baseman Jose Vidro, perhaps their most consistent hitter, from an ankle injury. The team has had to make a habit of coming back from injuries and scoring deficits.

Entering the game, the first-place Nationals had come from behind for 15 of their past 21 wins.

The man who principally ruined yesterday's attempt at a comeback was Orlando Hudson. The Toronto second baseman, who entered the game batting .238, hit his fifth and sixth homers of the year. The second, a two-run shot with one out in the eighth off loser Luis Ayala (6-4), broke a 5-5 tie.

Hudson, who bats eighth in Toronto's lineup, became the first player in pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium to have a multi-homer game this year.

"When he swings right, he's got some pop in his bat," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Hudson.

Said Ayala: "I missed a pitch, and I lost the game."

Hudson's heroics negated a comeback by Washington, which trailed 5-2 after Hudson's first homer highlighted a four-run fifth. The homer appeared to unsettle Washington starter Tony Armas, who had retired 12 straight before Hudson's blast.

A tired-looking Armas then loaded the bases by surrendering a pair of two-out walks sandwiched around a single by Frank Catalanotto. Shea Hillenbrand's two-RBI double to right made it 4-2, chasing Armas.

Before the home run, Armas "was throwing lights-out," catcher Gary Bennett said. "I don't know if he tried to do too much after that. He struggled. He left a few balls up."

Said Armas: "It's tough to explain. I felt so good out there. I just lost it, I guess."

Trailing 5-3, the Nationals tied it in the seventh after walks to Junior Spivey and Johnson. With two outs, Vinny Castilla doubled to the left-field wall. Spivey scored easily, and Johnson scored standing up as Zaun seemed to block the plate. Johnson immediately grimaced and began limping.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson suggested Johnson shouldn't have tried to steer around the catcher.

"He [Johnson] didn't try to slide. What he tried to do was avoid Zaun's leg. This is why catchers get knocked on their butts. He blocked the plate when he didn't have a chance for a play at the plate at that time," Robinson said.

"That's why you should never as a runner avoid knocking them on their butt because [there is] a good possibility you're going to get hurt," he said.

Gibbons defended his catcher, saying: "Zauny was holding his ground at the plate. If you don't slide, you're going to get banged up."

NOTE: Washington's Jose Guillen appeared to foul a ball off his foot in the fifth, sending Robinson from the dugout. But Guillen stayed in the game, grounding out to the pitcher, and Robinson said he was hopeful Guillen won't miss any games.

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