Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez gets some counsel from Wil Nieves and Steve McCatty.
"I still can't believe I lose that game with two outs," he said. "It's unbelievable."
Considering how well Hernandez pitched against the Giants every other moment he was on the mound, it is pretty unbelievable he wound up on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision. But that's what happens when you regularly play low-scoring, tight ballgames like the Nats do. The margin for error is razor-thin, and tonight Livo was the one left bleeding to death.
The situation: Bottom of the fifth, scoreless game, two outs and an 0-2 count on Giants starter Todd Wellemeyer. A pitcher couldn't conjure up a more-advantageous scenario, facing an opponent whose owns a career .135 batting average and zero extra-base hits.
"I have a lot of holes," Wellemeyer told reporters inside the Giants clubhouse.
So how exactly did the San Francisco right-hander manage to loft a base hit to right on Hernandez's 0-2 offering?
"I was looking outside," Wellemeyer said. "He threw it out there and I got a little duck fart over the first baseman's head."
Little did any of the 27,981 inside the ballpark realize Wellemeyer's, uh, "duck fart" would turn this game upside-down. Andres Torres followed with a single to center. Edgar Renteria followed by taking another down-and-away pitch to left for an RBI single. Freddy Sanchez roped a hanging slider to right to bring home two more runs. And Pablo Sandoval provided the final blow, another RBI double to center.
Five batters. Five hits. Four runs. Against a guy who to that point had surrendered only two hits while striking out four.
"He was great," catcher Wil Nieves said. "He was hitting the corners. Keeping the ball down. Throwing everything for strikes. Breaking ball. Changeup. Everything. He did a great job. With two outs in the fifth inning, it just got out of hand."
"They just got him," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He was outstanding for 4 2/3. And when Wellemeyer got the hit, it seemed like he didn't regroup."
This was an uncharacteristic performance from Hernandez. He's been known to have a bad outing every once in a while, but this wasn't a bad outing. He was as sharp during those first 4 2/3 innings as he's been at any previous point this season. He just couldn't finish the inning off.
"I lose the game, but in a very stupid way," he said. "Two outs. I've got the game right there, and I lose it. ... I get frustrated when it happens like that."
Livo certainly doesn't deserve the full blame for this loss. His teammates racked up all of four hits off Wellemeyer (who entered with a 5.71 ERA) and three San Francisco relievers. And three of those came in succession in the seventh.
Otherwise, the Nationals lineup was impotent on a chilly, rainy evening along the bay. Top-of-the-order hitters Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman went a combined 0-for-8, and the heart of the order (Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham) struck out in succession against closer Brian Wilson in the ninth.
But there's no telling how this one might have played out had Hernandez managed to get out of that fifth inning unscathed. Even after the two-out rally, his pitch count was a mere 75. He could have gone the distance. But because his club suddenly trailed by four runs, Riggleman felt it necessary to send up a pinch-hitter to open the sixth.
Through a variety of circumstances, the Nationals have come to count on Livo as their ace. On this night, they needed him to perform up to that lofty title.
"I think I have to pitch better than that," he said. "I know I have to pitch better than that."