Thursday, June 3, 2010

Game 55: Nats at Astros

Photo courtesy Houston Astros
The Nats need a win today at Minute Maid Park to avoid a 3-7 road trip.
Who knew the toughest leg of this 10-game trip for the Nationals would be a four-game set in Houston, home of the NL's worst team? The Nats certainly haven't taken care of business at Minute Maid Park, blowing out the Astros Monday but blowing a ninth-inning lead Tuesday and then laying an egg last night in a 5-1 loss.

So it'll take a victory in today's finale to salvage a series split, not to mention a 4-6 record on the road trip. A loss turns this into a legitimately disappointing trip and leaves the Nationals three games under .500 heading back to town for the biggest homestand in the club's brief history.

As this is all playing out, Stephen Strasburg makes his final start for Class AAA Syracuse at Buffalo, a game that will be televised all over the place. Versus is showing the game live at 1 p.m., then both MASN and Comcast SportsNet will show the game on tape delay at 7 p.m. (Nice to see people aren't making too big a deal out of this young man. Sheesh.)

As you know by now, I'm not in Houston with the club. But I will be watching both the Syracuse game and the big-league game this afternoon, so I'll share some thoughts along the way before returning to full-time duties tomorrow at Nationals Park...

Where: Minute Maid Park
Gametime: 2:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Cloudy, 82 degrees, Wind 2 mph out to RF
SS Cristian Guzman
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
2B Adam Kennedy
C Carlos Maldonado
P J.D. Martin

ASTROS (19-34)
CF Michael Bourn
2B Jeff Keppinger
1B Lance Berkman
LF Carlos Lee
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pedro Feliz
SS Tommy Manzella
C Kevin Cash
P Brian Moehler

1:22 p.m. -- Here's all you need to know about Stephen Strasburg's ability as a pitcher. He just fell behind all three Buffalo Bisons batters he faced in the bottom of the first and still got out of the inning with two groundballs and a strikeout. Had Mike Jacobs completely guessing on a 3-2 curveball to end the first. Even when he's not at the top of his game, he's capable of dominating.

1:36 p.m. -- Another 1-2-3 inning for Strasburg, and another glimpse into the depth of his repertoire. After recording that first-inning strikeout on a 3-2 curveball, he notched another in the second on a 3-2 changeup, a devastating 91 mph pitch down and in to slugger Mike Hessman (who leads all minor leaguers with 18 homers).

1:56 p.m. -- First bit of trouble for Strasburg in the third, if you want to call it trouble. He issued a two-out walk to opposing pitcher Dillon Gee after getting squeezed a couple of times by the plate umpire, then allowed a soft, line-drive single to left. No problem, though, because Strasburg bounced back to get a fly out to left to end the inning. Syracuse leads 2-0, by the way, thanks to a two-run homer by Pete Orr, who now has seven home runs on the season.

2:15 p.m. -- Make it four scoreless innings for Strasburg after a 1-2-3 fourth. He's allowed so far one hit and one walk while striking out four. Pitch count is a little high at 63, but if he is efficient in the fifth, he should be able to get through six. Oh, and just for good measure, Strasburg singled in the top of the fifth. He's now 2-for-3 with two RBI at Class AAA.

2:27 p.m. -- Meanwhile in Houston, the Nationals trail 1-0 after one thanks to an unearned run thanks to an error on Cristian Guzman. Guzman, who is starting at shortstop today, made a very lackadaisical throw to first on a routine grounder. Adam Dunn couldn't make the short-hop scoop, and that error prolonged the inning and allowed the Astros to score on a subsequent base hit off J.D. Martin. The damage might have been worse if not for Josh Willingham gunning down Lance Berkman at the plate on another base hit.

2:37 p.m. -- The good news: Strasburg hasn't allowed a run in five innings. The bad news: He's fallen behind in the count to a good number of hitters and has seen his pitch count reach 89. Atahualpa Severino was warming up at the end of the fifth, and there's a chance Strasburg won't come back out for the sixth. If this is it, Strasburg's final line in 11 minor-league starts will read as follows: 55.1 ip, 31 h, 8 er, 13 bb, 65 k. That's a 1.30 ERA. If Syracuse hangs on to this 3-0 lead, he'll also improve to 7-2.

2:47 p.m. -- And that will do it. Jeff Mandel pinch-hitting for Strasburg in the top of the sixth. Syracuse now leads 5-0, giving Strasburg a better shot at improving to 7-2 before he makes the trek down to D.C.

2:50 p.m. -- Down in Houston, J.D. Martin is making a strong case to swap roster spots with Strasburg. He's served up two homers in three innings (one to Kevin Cash, one to Lance Berkman). In Martin's defense, both homers landed over the extremely short fence in left field, and you could see him reacting to that second one shaking his head and saying: "No way." Still, you have to pitch in whatever conditions you're subjected to (dimensions, weather, umpires, whatever). Astros lead 3-0 after three.

3:02 p.m. -- This has kind of gone unnoticed, but the Nationals have been piling up errors for the last week or so. With Guzman's bad throw today in the first inning, they've now committed an NL-high 48 errors. Perhaps they haven't been as costly as last season, but for the last week, several fielding gaffes have come at some incredibly inopportune moments. On the bright side, Josh Willingham just singled home Ryan Zimmerman to cut the deficit to 3-1 in the fourth.

3:46 p.m. -- The Nationals are trying to get back into this one. An RBI single by Roger Bernadina just scored Zimmerman and made it 3-2 in the sixth. But they still can't get that one extra hit to prolong an inning and produce another run or two. They've got three innings left to catch (and perhaps surpass) the Astros. Time is running out.

4:36 p.m. -- Horribly wasted scoring opportunity in the top of the eighth. Two on, no one out and Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham up? How could the Nats blow that one? Well, they did. Dunn struck out on three pitches from Brandon Lyon (a really poor at-bat), and Willingham then grounded into a double play. The Nats are three outs away from dropping three of four in Houston and seven of 10 on this road trip.

4:54 p.m. -- Wow, that just changed in a hurry. Down to their final out, the Nats stormed back and incredibly have taken a 4-3 lead. Michael Morse started it off with a groundball single up the middle. Willie Harris then dumped a little blooper down the left-field line that got past Carlos Lee, allowed Morse to score and allowed Harris to reach third with a triple. Cristian Guzman completed the rally with a bloop single to center of his own, scoring Harris. How about that -- Nats take the lead, and now Matt Capps is coming on to try to record not only a save of this game but a save of the entire road trip!

5:07 p.m. -- Oh, my god. We're tied 4-4 on a misplay by Cristian Guzman in right field.

5:08 p.m. -- And that's the capper to it all. Carlos Lee into the Crawford Boxes. Astros win 6-4. Absolutely crushing loss for the Nats.


Anonymous said...

So our boy Bryce was ejected for kind of showing up the ump and got a 2 day suspension. Have you guys seen this?:

Virtual Nats said...

Well Mark, you certainly were right about the Nats being about a .500 team. I'm fighting with myself to see this as a step forward, but I must admit to also feeling disappointed. Hopefully they'll find some offense within their 40 man roster and not buy some contract just to satisfy the baseball public's need for spending money. BTW, how about a medical update on Mark Lerner while you're at it. Hope you are enjoying your new reporting role, keep up the good work.

Sec3 said...

Thanks for the link, natsone_va. That pitch was certainly outside, in the RH batters box. I wonder, after seeing the video, if he may have been tossed for flipping the dirt at the ump with his bat as much anything. But an unnecessary ejection unless he has a history with that umpire, and even then, it would be pretty tickytacky.

N. Cognito said...

Drawing a line in the dirt, indicating where you thought the pitch was, is an automatic ejection.

Buzz Killjoy said...

The 2 game suspension is due to the fact that this is his second ejection of the season.
The first is featured in an article by Sheinin on Harpers' supposed attitude problem.
So... that could be his final appearance before the draft, unless his team makes the final.

Les in NC said...

"Drawing a line in the dirt, indicating where you thought the pitch was, is an automatic ejection."

I won't say I am an expert or anything, but I didn't know this. Quite possibly, Bryce did not know this. Now he knows! I would bet he is definitely regretting his actions! CSN's team is good and can win without Harper, but they will be hardpressed to do so against the #1 seed if they make it past tonights game.
At any rate, I can't wait to see him in ST 2011!

N. Cognito said...

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Nats are absolutely CRUSHING the ball.
I wonder in what inning they'll hit 10 strikeouts - 4th? 5th?

PDowdy83 said...

Atta boy Hammer.

Andrew C said...

JD Martin is the clear choice to go back down, but what happens when Olsen is back? My vote is Stammen, he needs to figure out how to not give up 3 runs in the first inning.

For Bryce, there has been a lot of press about him being a punk, but we have to remember he is only 17 years old. Oh course he is going to be a punk, all 17 year old guys are. He'll mature while in the minors.

dj in Fl. said...

Maybe we should have had Pudge catch up with the team as soon as he was feeling better. We had not seen this lazy approach to defense since last yer when Pudge was not in the clubhouse.
Shortstops..5 errors now in 14 innings.

NatsJack in Florida said...

As a J. Max strike out up date, while lowering his overall BA between Washington and Syracuse to .196 he has been able to whiff twice today to elevate his strike out average to a lofty .373.

Can he actually reach the lofty .400 mark? Will they let him continue on this torrid pace?

Les in NC said...

"Meanwhile, in Houston, the Nats are absolutely CRUSHING the ball."

Another lousy pitcher the Nats are making an Ace out of....

not to mention 2 more Errors...
And trust me Mark, the E's aren't unnoticed...

swang said...

We've talked about Rigg's quick hooks, but what's up with the Astro's? 67 pitches and getting pulled after a 1 out walk?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see we refuse to bunt out of double plays, even with pitchers and guys batting .179. Fantastic.

SpringfieldFan said...

"The biggest homestand in the club's brief history." Are you honestly suggesting that one pitcher's debut is bigger than the homestand that ended the 33 long, miserable years that DC went without a major league team? Really, Mark?

Mark Zuckerman said...

SpringfieldFan: Yes, I am. This isn't just about Strasburg's debut on Tuesday. It's about Bryce Harper getting drafted on Monday. It's about a competitive ballclub that spent most of May on the road finally coming home to a fan base that is beginning to appreciate what's going on here.

Obviously the opener in 2005 was an incredible event. But what else do you remember about that homestand? Honestly, I'm having a hard time remembering any other details. If anything, you could make a case that the homestand in early-June 2005 when the Nats went on the 10-game winning streak was the biggest in club history. But I do believe this upcoming stretch will represent a significant moment for this franchise.

Les in NC said...

The Nats aren't even really trying to win this one. Seems like they are simply trying to get this game over with so they can come home to "glory".

Anonymous8 said...

If Willie Harris gets tagged out before Michael Morse crosses the plate, it is deja vu all over again.

SpringfieldFan said...

10 years from now, we'll be able to judge whether this is a significant moment or not, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Can you believe that Bourn hit.......

Anonymous said...

I dont believe what I just saw.

Anonymous said...

Well, Riggleman made a complete mess out of that game multiple times.

Anonymous8 said...

Whether Guzy catches that ball or not, Berkman should have been walked so he could concentrate on the righthanded batter Carlos Lee.

Bowdenball said...

I'm gonna try to look on the bright side:

This series was a helpful reminder of just how miserable it's been to be a Nats fan for the last 4+ years. A potent mix of frustration and shame.

Thanks for reminding us of who we've been, Nats. Now how about using the next week or so to show us what we will be?

N. Cognito said...

Guzman's good.

Anonymous said...

Guzman is not an outfielder quit using him as such a routine flyball another loss. what a shame!

swang said...

What's up with these dagger loses recently?

N. Cognito said...

Anonymous said...
"Guzman is not an outfielder quit using him as such a routine flyball another loss. what a shame!"

He's not a shortstop either.

Josh said...

The Guzman giveth, and the Guzman taketh away. It can't any get worse than this series.

JayB said...

Riggs has no creditably with that comment...."lost it in the lights"....that is not what happened at all.

John d said...

And there goes the season. We made it interesting for a few months but this series my friends is the beginning of the end. Capps is done. Zim looks hurt, Morgan is a waste, guzman CANNOT play the outfield and dunn looks lost More often then not. Wild card? Please. They look lost on the field. They lost their swag. Reality set in. 2011 is a new year! Thanks for all the positive posts so far mark. Let's focus on strasburg starts and getting Harper, JZim, Wang, Marquis, Dez ready for next yr. And let's talk about the power hitting right fielder we are gonna need for next yr. 2010 is done. This is the turning point. Embarassing loses.

cadeck13 said...

I'm more than a little confused as to why we put Guzman in RF when we normally put in others for defense in the 8th or 9th - like when we put Kennedy at 1st for Dunn or Willie for Willingham. Am I missing something?

Gosh, this kind of playing could make Strasburg look bad.

Anonymous said...

With Carlos Lee's HR Houston still would have won! Capps is losing it.

Anonymous said...

John D, what are you talking about? Zimm looks hurt? He was on base almost every at bat this series. What basis do you have for that statement?

Capps isn't done. He has blown a few saves lately but there has been bad d behind him. The Lee homerun is the first one that was really bad.

Also Nyjer had a good series as well. So he slumped for a month. Everybody loved him when he was red hot and now everybody hates him when he is slumping.

Dunn is also on a tear lately. His average is up almost 30 points. He had a bad at bat at the end of the game today, but is that realy cause to call him lost more often than not?

I agree they were embarassing but the series should have been a split and today should have been going for 3 of 4 instead of 2 of 2 but the umps took care of that for us in game 2.

Stop being so dramatic people. We get a new starting pitcher on Tuesday who replaces a sub par pitcher. Hopefully Rizzo can find a RFer. Maybe Dejesus from the Royals or Hart from the Brewers.

Cwj said...

@Anon5:43 Amen!

Anonymous said...

So, any doubts now? This team is exactly as good, or as bad, as whoever they are playing. Full stop. All the crap about how bad they feel when they lose aside, this is a mediocre team that simply plays to the level of the team they're playing. They would lose two out of three to a little league team, but always in close games. Time for someone to step up and stop talking about how badly they feel after each debacle and start taking names and kicking butt. If Capps is going to throw away victories, time to give someone else a chance. And puhleese, Stammen goes when Strasurg arrives, it isn't even close. Even if Stammen ends up somewhere else, Stammen goes.

Anonymous said...

Riggleman either needs to play Morse or Rizzo needs to get a good fielding and hitting right fielder, not just one or the other, replacing Harris and Bernadina. Three errors for Guzman. Watch he won't sit the way Riggleman sits Desmond, Morgan or anyone else when they screw up in the field.

Anonymous8 said...

Anon @ 5:43, good points.

I like Riggleman. I think he made a mistake. Berkman should have been walked, end of story and then go from there and pitch to Carlos Lee.

Oh well, water under the bridge. Dominate at home!

BinM said...

Capps recent run of 'less-than-good' outings began May 23rd (the day Pudge went on the DL). Coincidence, or not?

BinM said...

@Anon5:43 - You last point regarding acquiring DeJesus from the Royals is worth some thought. He's decent defensively, but doesn't have a great arm; Has historically hit both LH & RH pitching enough to avoid a platoon. Gap-hitter, with no base-stealing acumen. Good bat for the #7 slot, imo. The question is, what would it take to get him?

Maybe a pick-3 list from Bernadina, Maxwell, Harris, Solano, Bergmann, Chico, or Severino could draw some interest, if the Nationals eat the remaining salary & option.

Anonymous8 said...

BinM - Did you see that catch Bernadina made on the rightfield line?

Yes, upgrade at RF, and keep Bernadina as he is an important guy off the bench when you get a permanent RF.

Personally, I would throw in Lannan, Stammen, Marquis in a pick of take 1 for a good RF with time left on his contract.

Anonymous said...

I wrote this yesterday, and post it again today:

June 2, 2010 9:00 PM
Anonymous said...
It's beginning to feel like old times.

In spring training we looked like a FAST team that would play great DEFENSE. Now we barely steal bases and make lots of stupid errors.

We're reverting to the team that takes cold-hitting players and heats them up.

We make clown-losers like Wandy look like Cy Young. This joker has struck out SIX of ten outs in this game!

We heat up cold teams.

We keep things really close, then do just enough to lose at the end.

We believe we can win in MLB without a right fielder.

Our pitchers and pinch-hitters fail to get down sacrifice bunts.

We choke with the bases loaded.

Strasbug cannot fix all this himself.

BinM said...

@Anon8 - Didn't see the Bernadina catch live (work got in the way), but looked at the replay; Nice play. I tossed him into the list because you have to show some value to get anything of value in return, imo. I'm not ready to give up on Bernadina, but it might take him (and a couple of others) to get a player like DeJesus.

Cwj said...

I'm not ready to give up on Capps. All of his stats are quality except for one key stat: BABIP
He's always been a hit per-inning guy, but sometime soon all the bloops, flares etc will turn into outs.
Of course this assumes the D behind him actually do their jobs!

alm1000 said...

The Natship are listing a little but its not time to abandon ship.
Strasburg and the buzz from the draft should give us a lift.
Rizzo doesn't trade for a RFer yet, its too early.

JayB said...

Kilgore on Nats RF.....entering Thursday, had hit .198 (last in the majors), slugged .380 (28th) and compiled a .297 on-base percentage (29th).


A DC Wonk said...

Unless I'm remembering wrong, wouldn't walking Berkman be putting the winning run on base?

As for other's criticism: Zim, Dunn, and Willingham are all slugging over .500

And, something I posted yesterday: you don't go from losing 100+ games two years in a row to a pennant contender in one year. While we're 26-29 now (after a particularly rough schedule, and a lot of game recently on the road) . . . let's remember that last year we were something like 26-64 at one point.

With a whole lotta young pitchers coming up and/or injured pitchers coming back -- just a few of them have to work out, and then we'll be just one outfielder away from being a very solid team.

BinM said...


OK, so you've clearly defined RF as your current problem - If you were to suddenly swap places with Rizzo, what, prey tell is your solution? A free-agent, a trade (with who & at what cost in return), or an internal promotion? Curious minds await your response.

JayB said...

BinM....I floated some names last week. Dejuess was one as was Jose G. I think they could do a one year solution for 2010 by taking on salary for a guy like Jose who KC would love to give us for next to nothing just to dump salary. It does not have to be Jose and Mark has said he would not be a Rizzo Clubhouse guy....but he would have made that catch today and that would be a win and that would make that clubhouse happier than it is right their it is.....Rizzo has the blackberry with 29 other GM's in it....use it to take on someone else's salary problem for this year.....Fukadoma maybe? Nadie? anyone would be better than what we have now and it would not cost any prospects this way.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Nat's could trade for Cory Hart? The Brewers are shopping him because they want to drop his salary of 4.8 mil. They are still upset that he won his arbitration case after missing 2 months last year. They want cheap starting pitching. It would probably take Detwiler and another top prospect although he might go cheaper. He's not a great defensive player but he would add a lot of pop to the lineup currently 14 HRs. Anyone think this trade might be possible?

JayB said...

I agree all is not doom here but RF should be fixed sooner than later. What is the point of having a losing mind set re appear while we wait for the expected pitching to develop....fix it now and win some today's game would have been a win with any other RF in baseball out there.

JayB said...

Ask Uncle Ted....the only reason we went into the year without any solution in RF was Lerner being cheap.

Anonymous said...

JayB is too wrapped up in Barry Svrluga 2005 nostalgia. Aside from being a clubhouse cancer, Jose Guillen is a DH now, not playing RF. There's a reason for that - he CAN'T play good RF any more. Guzman is a better option in RF than Jose Guillen at this point.

Perhaps we should also bring back Vinny Castilla to play 3B instead of that error machine Zimmerman. Right, JayB? And yeah, Riggleman shouldn't be blaming Guzman's error on the lights. He should be breaking down in tears at the podium because he's forced to play Guz at a position he was never meant to play.

And who needs the new ballpark anyway? Let's go back to rat-infested RFK!

Cwj said...

@JayB - I'm starting to come around to your opinion on acquiring a RF. Today was the nail in the coffin for my full agreement.

I'm actually happy with the Bullpen. All things considered (including 2 recent blown saves), the relievers are looking sharp. -Storen is working to understand what the Major League "strike-zone" looks like (answer: it varies). But he's throwing some wicked, tight, nasty pitches at times.
-Clippard defines effectively wild. He's been scouted for 2 years, but hitters still strikeout on his high fastball. Possibly among the top 3 setup men in the NL.
-Capps is throwing lots of quality strikes (and is throwing rather hard as well). Unfortunately they're being hit right now. He'll recover from a recent slump.

Anonymous said...

It does me some good to read my fellow Nats fans comments on this very-hard-to-take defeat. Misery, I guess, loves company. I wonder what humiliation loves. Since I've irrevocably bonded with the Nats, I guess I'll be finding out. Anyway, I'm going to ignore my better judgment and chime in. I'm wondering what Guzman is doing in RF at any time in a Major League game and even more so in the bottom of the ninth. He's doing the best he can but he looks uncomfortable -- and now this game. I didn't see the game. Maybe there wasn't anyone left on the bench to play RF. But when I listen to Riggleman (and Acta before him) I get the feeling that he is mainly concerned with playing time for the guys, like it's a Babe Ruth league and maybe their mom and dad would be upset if they don't play. Winning games seems secondary for him regardless of the lip service he sometimes gives it. Maybe finding ABs is simply the difficult job of the manager. He's got to do it -- except Morse and Gonzales. But it kinda goes hand in hand with what we've witnessed over the last couple of sorry years. We get people "trying out" positions and playing out of position -- things that should be done in "A" ball. Witness Milledge in CF (Acta + who knows what advisor) and Desmond in RF last year. On Monday Ray Knight said he thought Guzman had won the second base job and ought to play there every day and I agee.

natscan reduxit said...

... and as for the Rest Of Baseball, there's this:

Memo to Mr. B. Selig:

Please note:
as·ter·isk ~ NOUN:
A star-shaped figure (*) used chiefly to indicate an omission

... if it's good (or bad) enough for Roger maris, it ought to be the same for Armando Gallaraga (or Harvey Haddix and Pedro Martinez, for that matter).

natscan reduxit said...

... oops, sorry. That should have been "Maris". And for those of you who didn't get the Pedro or Haddix references:

Martínez has come about as close to throwing a perfect game as possible without actually getting credit for one. On June 3, 1995, while pitching for Montreal, he retired the first 27 Padres hitters he faced. However, the score was still tied 0–0 at that point and the game went into extra innings. The Expos scored a run in the top of the 10th, but Martínez surrendered a double to the 28th batter he faced, Bip Roberts. Expos manager Felipe Alou then removed Martínez from the game, bringing in reliever Mel Rojas, who retired the next three batters. Martínez officially recorded neither a perfect game nor a no-hitter. Until 1991, the rules would have judged it differently; however, a rule clarification specified that perfect games, even beyond nine innings, must remain perfect until the game is completed for them to be considered perfect. This retroactively decertified many no-hit games, including Ernie Shore's perfect relief stint in 1917 and Harvey Haddix's legendary 12 perfect innings from 1959 (lost in the 13th).

Go Nats!!

Andrew said...

I just heard that ESPN will be setting up their Baseball Tonight set "live" at Nationals Park on Tuesday.

With the MLB Network broadcasting the entire game, this will be huge for the national exposure of the Nats.

A DC Wonk said...

I'm a bit tired of hearing some folks complaining so much that Rizzo didn't get a RF'er. In Rizzo's defense, he came into a complete mess last year. He had to clean up the Dominican Republican disaster, he got Scott Boras to blink, signing Strasburg with 77 seconds left before the deadline, and, very importantly, he essentially replaced last year's *entire* bullpen. Look at how many new pitchers we have this year, and how many of them will be useful in the future.

So, he didn't get a RF'er. You can't do everything in one year -- and a team that just lost over 100 games (twice) didn't have a whole lot to offer.

The fact is, we're tremendously improved since last year (we're 26-29, not 26-64 like last year). And credit has to be given to Rizzo for that.

(And, remember Boswell's constant comment: you're never as good as it seems during a winning streak, and you're never as bad as it seems during a losing streak).

Mrs. Z. said...

Riggleman shouldn't be blaming Guzman's error on the lights. He should be breaking down in tears at the podium because he's forced to play Guz at a position he was never meant to play.
Nice. Also a good reason NOT to bring back Jose Guillen.

PS: I'll give ten bucks to anyone who holds up "Nats Insider" sign on Tuesday night and manages to get on TV :-)

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