No bean balls, but Mets beat Nats

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WASHINGTON – No beanballs, brawls or even brushbacks Tuesday between the Nationals and Mets. In fact, Washington’s home opener was much more low key in every way than last season, when big league baseball returned after a 34-year absence.

Rookie Brian Bannister shut down Washington again for his first major league victory and Carlos Beltran homered off the facing of the upper deck, leading the Mets past the Nationals 7-1.

Bannister (1-0) allowed three hits over seven innings, throwing 107 pitches. The lone run he gave up came on Alfonso Soriano’s homer in the seventh. The right-hander held the Nationals hitless for 5 1-3 innings in his big league debut last week in New York.

Seven batters were hit by pitches during that series – six by Mets pitchers – and a near-fight ensued. Nationals right-hander Felix Rodriguez and manager Frank Robinson were suspended by Major League Baseball, which told the umpires for this three-game set to look out for trouble.

But Robinson and Mets manager Willie Randolph, as well as players from both clubs, shrugged off questions about any lingering bad blood or whether what happened last week might affect the pitching this week.

There was, however, one prominently displayed reminder of the shenanigans at Shea Stadium. Someone ripped a page out of a New York tabloid with the headline “Old Brawl Game” and attached it to the greaseboard right outside the Nationals’ clubhouse. Written below, in blue marker and all capital letters: “Strap it on!”

Still, no batter had to dive out of the way of an up-and-in heater. The only person who appeared to get nicked by a ball was plate umpire Brian O’Nora, when a foul tip bounced up and hit him below his mask.

Bannister was in control throughout, while Washington starter Ramon Ortiz (0-2) found himself in trouble repeatedly, giving up four runs and eight hits in six innings. Even Bannister got his first major league hit – two, in fact.

The Mets scored twice each in the fourth and fifth, tacked on a run in the seventh on Jose Reyes’ RBI triple and then added Beltran’s two-run homer in the ninth off Rodriguez, who is appealing his suspension.

Paul Lo Duca had three hits and an RBI as the Mets outhit the Nationals 12-3. Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner each threw a hitless inning in relief for New York, which improved to 5-1. Wagner walked three but escaped a bases-loaded jam.

Washington fell to 2-6, and the Nationals’ first home game of their second season in the nation’s capital since moving from Montreal was definitely diminished.

A year ago, there was a rush for tickets and a sellout. This time, the attendance was 40,530 at 46,382-seat RFK Stadium. There were large patches of empty seats when Vice President Dick Cheney strode out to mainly boos and scattered applause for the ceremonial first pitch. Last season, it was President Bush who did the honors. Last year, commissioner Bud Selig was at the game; this year, baseball’s No. 2 official, Bob DuPuy, was in attendance.

“I’m not concerned about the crowd,” DuPuy said. “With all that’s gone on in the offseason, the doubts about the stadium for a while, and the fights and the arguments – no one likes all of that. But what I am confident about is as we get a new owner in place, and as the young team improves on the field, and as we get the new stadium built, all of that will be forgotten about and this will be a terrific baseball market.”

Notes: Bannister had a single and a double. … The Nationals’ seven-game streak with a homer is the franchise’s longest since September 2004, when the Montreal Expos homered in nine consecutive games. … Nationals 2B Jose Vidro went 0-for-4. He had at least one hit in all seven prior games.

AP-ES-04-11-06 1720EDT

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