Associated Press photo
Ryan Zimmerman can't watch as Ryan Ludwick rounds the bases on a grand slam.
Standing on the mound, Ross Detwiler knew there was nothing he could about it. Yes, he should have been out of the inning on only 20 pitches, the scoreboard showing a big, fat zero for the Reds. But nothing he said or did at that point was going to change anything.
As much as he wanted to believe he could cast the calls aside and bear down on his next pitch to Ryan Ludwick, Detwiler admitted that was easier said than done.
"I need to stay in it and focus mentally on my next pitch," he said. "I think I let it go a little bit. It wasn't completely gone, but I let it go a little bit. And that's when you make your mistake."
Indeed, Detwiler's 2-2 pitch to Ludwick was the mistake he couldn't afford to make. A fastball that was supposed to be in on the right-handed batter but stayed over the plate a little too much landed in the Red Porch beyond the center-field fence for an early grand slam that sucked the life out of Nationals Park.
There was plenty more that transpired over the ensuing 3 1/2 hours, both good and bad, that led to the Nationals' 8-5, 11-inning loss and a sobering end to their five-game winning streak. Despite digging themselves into that early hole, the Nationals stormed back to tie the game late and force extra innings for the third time in four days, only to watch as Cincinnati roughed up reliever Tyler Clippard for three runs in the 11th to escape town with one win in four tries.
"That was so long ago, I don't even remember it," shortstop Ian Desmond said of the calamitous top of the first. "The fact of the matter is, we came back and tied it at 5. We fought. We just came up a little short."
Maybe so, but the course of this game was dramatically altered way back in its very first frame with those three blown calls: one by first base umpire Mike Everitt, two by plate umpire Laz Diaz.
Things were moving along swimmingly when Detwiler got cleanup hitter Scott Rolen to chop a two-out grounder to the left side of the infield. Desmond made a nice play to get to the ball, but his throw to first was high. Not to worry, because Adam LaRoche made a leaping grab of the throw, then attempted both to tag Rolen and land on the base.
He missed the tag, but replays showed he clearly stepped on the bag well before Rolen did, a fact witnessed by most everyone in the ballpark except for Everitt.
If Everitt gets the call right, the inning ends and Detwiler retreats to the dugout having thrown only 20 pitches. Instead, the frame continued, setting the stage for Diaz to call the lefty's 3-2 slider to Jay Bruce a ball ... even though Major League Baseball's official "Pitch F/X" system showed it to be a clear strike.
Thus, the inning continued, the bases now loaded for Ludwick. Again, Detwiler appeared to get out of the jam, firing a 1-2 fastball just above the knees and over the plate ... only to watch as Diaz called that offering a ball. Two pitches later, Ludwick connected for his grand slam.
Asked what he thought about Diaz's call of the 1-2 pitch, Detwiler stared back at reporters and cameras with a smirk and said nothing.
"I'm not going to make any comment on the umpire," he said earlier.
Everyone inside the Nationals' clubhouse had the same response on the record. Off the record, their disgust with today's umpiring crew was made well-known.
"Early on, I thought we caught a couple bad breaks," manager Davey Johnson said as politely as possible. "I thought we had him at first, and then I thought that was a pitch that should have been called a third strike on Bruce. But that's baseball. Those things sometimes get the breaks. We battled back and had chances to win the ballgame. Just didn't get it done."
To their credit, the Nationals did chip away at what eventually became a 5-0 lead in the fourth, getting clutch hits from LaRoche and Desmond to tie the game in the seventh and force extra innings.
But they also squandered several opportunities to add to their run total, coming up short particularly at moving runners over with less than two outs.
"All of us can do better at that," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
The game ultimately was decided in the 11th, when Clippard slipped and fell on his very first pitch and then continued the downward spiral by allowing four hits in a span of five batters.
Afterward, Johnson admitted he was hoping to avoid using his top setup man, who had been complaining of some shoulder soreness. Clippard, though, insisted his arm is fine.
"It's just normal stuff I've been going through, stuff I've been going through my whole career," he said. "Nothing out of the ordinary. I felt good today. I've felt good every outing."
The Nationals tried to mount one last-ditch rally in the bottom of the 11th and brought the tying run to the plate. But pinch-hitter Jesus Flores struck out swinging at an offering from Reds closer Sean Marshall, and Wilson Ramos' smash to first was scooped up by Joey Votto to end the game.
Thus ended the Nationals' five-game winning streak. They do, however, remain in sole possession of first place in the NL East for at least one more day, blown calls or not.
"We're 7-3," Zimmerman said. "I don't think there's anything to be mad about."