Published April 11, 2010
NEW YORK (AP) — Josh Willingham wound up with a grand slam off Johan Santana after a wild sequence in the first inning capped by an instant replay review, and the Washington Nationals went on to beat the New York Mets 5-2 on Sunday.
Willingham's bases-loaded drive hit the wall in left-center and was initially ruled in play. He tried to stretch his triple when the ball got away from catcher Rod Barajas and was tagged out, leaving both players sprawled across home plate.
After checking the replay, the umpires ruled a home run.
Willingham followed his fifth career grand slam with an RBI double in the third inning, helping the Nationals beat Santana (1-1) for the first time since June 9, 2007.
Livan Hernandez (1-0) pitched a gem against his former team, scattering five hits and three walks over seven innings. He needed only 88 pitches before giving it over to the bullpen, which surrendered a two-run homer by Mike Jacobs in the eighth before finishing it up.
Matt Capps worked a perfect ninth inning for his third save, allowing the Nationals (3-3) to reach .500 for the first time since April 5, 2008. They took two of three from the Mets to win their first series at year-old Citi Field.
Hernandez was considered a long shot to make the team after arriving at Nationals camp in February, and the portly pitcher worked hard to get into shape. He allowed only two earned runs in eight innings in two spring starts, helping him earn the last spot in the rotation.
Washington made his season-debut an easy one with a dramatic first inning.
Santana had loaded the bases with a leadoff triple by Nyjer Morgan and walks to Willy Taveras and Adam Dunn, before Willingham drove a 2-1 pitch deep.
The ball caromed off the wall into center and the relay throw eventually got to Barajas, who was plowed over by Dunn trying to score. The ball squirted free and Santana, backing up the play, tossed it back to the catcher just before he was run over again by Willingham. This time, Barajas managed to hold onto the ball for the out.
Not that any of it mattered.
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman immediately argued the play should have been a grand slam, and the umpires conferred for a moment before heading to the replay booth.
The top of the outfield wall at spacious Citi Field is about twice as high in left field as in center. The orange line painted along the top to signify a home run is vertical where the two sections meet, causing some confusion about whether the long drive was in play.
Replays showed it hit just to the right of the vertical line and over the horizontal line, and crew chief Derryl Cousins quickly emerged to rule it was a home run.
Major League Baseball began using replay in August 2008, following the NFL, NBA, NHL, some NCAA competitions and Grand Slam tennis. Replay can only be used on home runs involving boundary calls, such as whether a ball was fair or foul, or whether it cleared the outfield wall.
NOTES: The benches and bullpens cleared in the ninth inning when Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez hit Willie Harris with a pitch. Both teams were warned but no punches were thrown, and order was quickly restored. ... Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman missed the game with a tight left hamstring. He is also expected to miss Monday's game at Philadelphia.