WASHINGTON -- A near no-hitter? Yeah, that's worth smiling about. A first career home run? Now there's a reason to celebrate.
Ramon Ortiz came within three outs of pitching the majors' first no-hitter in more than two years Monday, but it was his eighth-inning shot to the bullpen beyond the left-field fence that had him practically giddy after the Washington Nationals' 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
"When I see that ball's a homer, I say, 'Yes!' It's unbelievable. I can't sleep tonight," Ortiz said. "I can't wait to go to my house to watch the TV and watch how hard we hit the ball."
On the second pitch of the next inning, Ortiz left a fastball up in the strike zone to leadoff hitter Aaron Miles, who singled to center to end 33-year-old Dominican's bid to become the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Randy Johnson's perfect game for the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 18, 2004.
"He came up short, but we decided it was worth a bottle of Dom anyway," said general manager Jim Bowden, shortly after presenting Ortiz with a bottle of the highbrow champagne.
Bowden also held his own ticker tape parade for Ortiz, throwing paper out the window of the GM's box after the pitcher's home run off reliever Jorge Sosa -- only the 10th hit in Ortiz's career. Ortiz made a very slow trot around the bases, pumping his fist in celebration as the crowd of 31,092 stood and cheered. He said the homer didn't distract him from the no-hit bid, but it seemed he would have taken the round-tripper over the no-hitter anyway.
"It's was an unbelievable game today," Ortiz said. "We had everything today. We hit a home run and we throw a good game."
Ortiz wasn't able to finish the game. Miles was erased by a double play, but Ortiz then gave up Albert Pujols' 43rd homer of the season -- the slugger's fourth homer in two days. Ortiz left to a standing ovation, and Chad Cordero entered and got the final out.
Manager Frank Robinson said there was no sense in letting Ortiz keep pitching just to try for a complete game.
"I wanted him to leave with a good feeling," Robinson said. "I wanted him to enjoy the moment."
The Nationals have won five straight, all in dramatic fashion. On Sunday, they became the first team win four in a row when trailing by two runs in the seventh inning or later since the New York Giants in 1923.
Ortiz (10-12) certainly wasn't a likely candidate for a no-hitter. He had been 0-3 with an 11.43 ERA in his last four starts. He hadn't lasted more than seven innings all season because of his consistent high pitch-counts -- he threw 111 pitches in only 4 2/3 innings against Atlanta earlier this month.
In addition, the Nationals starters have been dreadful recently, losing eight straight decisions and going 1-9 with a 9.13 ERA over the last 16 games.
"He had good stuff, but you don't feel he is overpowering," Miles said. "Obviously we had an off day. If we are swinging the bats well, I don't think he would do that to us. He was getting ahead with his fastball."
Before the ninth, Ortiz gave up only three baserunners -- all walks. The closest the Cardinals came to a hit was a sinking liner to right by John Rodriguez with one out in the fifth. Ortiz was bidding to throw the first no-hitter for the franchise since Dennis Martinez pitched a perfect game on July 28, 1991, for the Montreal Expos against Los Angeles.
The last no-hitter pitched in Washington was by Bobby Burke in 1931 for the Senators at Griffith Stadium.
The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning on Austin Kearns' two-run homer off Jason Marquis (14-13). Kearns has the game-winning RBI in three straight games.
Marquis gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out four.
"You just have to give credit to Ortiz," St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa said. "He was better. He looked good the whole time. If you took strike one, he just got nastier and nastier."
- St. Louis CF Juan Encarnacion sat out with a sore hip. Rodriguez started in right field, with Preston Wilson moving to center.
- Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 10 games.