Reeling Nats powerless to prevent Mets' sweep


WASHINGTON -- It didn't take long last season for RFK Stadium to earn a reputation as a "pitcher's park." By the All-Star break, there had been just 45 homers hit there, last in the majors.

If the first three games this year are any indication, the stadium is still playing big.

But only, it seems, when the power-challenged Washington Nationals are batting.

The New York Mets yesterday had little trouble sizing up RFK - and Washington pitching - by slugging four home runs en route to a 13-4 victory that completed a three-game sweep and sent the Mets to their sixth straight victory.

After Nationals starter Livan Hernandez (1-2) got two quick outs in the first inning, three of the next four Mets - Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Cliff Floyd - homered to put Washington in an early 4-0 hole.

Hernandez also surrendered a two-run blast by Carlos Delgado, making it 6-0 in the third. The pitcher hadn't given up that many home runs in a game in five years.

New York's power surge couldn't have come at a worse time for Washington second baseman Jose Vidro, who had just been complaining the night before that RFK's large dimensions, particularly in the center-field power alleys, were turning potential home runs into long outs.

"It killed us last year, and it is going to kill us again this year, I guarantee that," Vidro had said.

RFK's field is 410 feet from home plate to center and 336 feet down the lines. The alleys are listed at 380, but club officials acknowledged last year that they were deeper than that and ordered the distance signs moved toward the foul poles.

Yesterday, Vidro was left to explain how it was that the Mets - and more specifically, New York's home runs - seemed to rise above all the questions about the park.

"I don't regret anything I said," said Vidro, at a loss to explain how the Mets hit four homers in a stadium that surrendered just 112 last year. "They're playing in the same ballpark that we do."

Nationals manager Frank Robinson seemed to want his team to forget its ballpark obsession, just as he wanted to forget about yesterday's defeat.

"If we're going to start complaining about the size of this ballpark and whatever now, we might as well pack it in and go home, because if we don't, they're going to be putting us in a little white jacket and carrying us out of here," Robinson said.

The Nationals, who have lost eight of their first 10 games, heard scattered boos from the afternoon crowd of 25,465 late in the game.

Perhaps it was the accumulated frustration of three games in which New York outscored the Nationals 23-6 to ruin Washington's first homestand of the season.

The Nationals have developed a bad habit of letting opponents jump on top early. "We don't have the type of offense to overcome that on a daily basis," Robinson said. "The other pitcher has a lot more confidence and a cushion to work with."

NOTES -- The Nationals optioned outfielder Brandon Watson, their former leadoff hitter, to Triple-A New Orleans and recalled outfielder Ryan Church and infielder Brendan Harris. Yesterday, the team used Alfonso Soriano as its leadoff hitter, and he had one hit in five appearances.

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