Associated Press photo
Roger Bernadina scored on a disastrous play by the Astros in the 11th.
"Suzuki reached on bunt single to first, Bernadina to second. Bernadina to third, Suzuki to second on Pearce throwing error. Bernadina scored, Suzuki to third on Bogusevic throwing error."
And that description didn't even include the part where Matt Downs nearly dove into two teammates (who had just collided) for no logical reason.
Ladies and gentlemen: Your 2012 Houston Astros!
Words can't fully capture the absurdity of the moment. It really needs to be watched to be fully appreciated. Suffice it to say, even the Bad News Bears would have been embarrassed to botch one play in such spectacular fashion.
And no, that wasn't Morris Buttermaker strolling to the mound for a conference with Amanda Whurlizer later that inning. It was indeed Houston manager Brad Mills commiserating with right-hander Wilton Lopez.
When they put together the Astros' season-in-review DVD, they need only include that one play, 15 seconds of sheer absurdity that will tell viewers all they need to know about this team.
The Nationals had better be grateful for Houston's hospitality. Thanks to it, they were able to go to sleep last night with smiles on their faces following a victory that overshadowed plenty of disturbing trends that nearly turned this game into a loss.
The most-disturbing trend: The insistence of just about every one of the seven Nationals who took the mound to throw more offspeed pitches than fastballs.
Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty have been preaching to their staff for weeks about the importance of attacking hitters with fastballs, then moving on to breaking balls and changeups once they get ahead in the count. It's been a frequent source of frustration in particular with Stephen Strasburg, who at times has overused his offspeed stuff and forgotten that he can trust his upper-90s heater to retire hitters at this level.
Strasburg, though, started Sunday against the Marlins. And he did take heed to the message, sticking with his fastball en route to six scoreless innings and his 12th victory of the season. It was Edwin Jackson and six Nationals relievers who veered off course during last night's game.
All told, those seven hurlers threw a combined 194 pitches to a Houston lineup that is sorely lacking in talent and experience. Yet only 92 of them were fastballs.
Jackson somehow managed to make it work, allowing just two runs on two hits while striking out eight over 5 1/3 innings. But his replacements on the mound weren't nearly so fortunate, especially Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, who were all over the place during the frenetic eighth and ninth innings.
Both relievers have superb offspeed pitches that when thrown well can silence any hitter in the big leagues. But both generally rely on their fastballs to set up the other stuff, something they seemed to forget last night.
The end result: Storen issued a pair of walks and needed a strong play in center field by Bernadina to strand the bases loaded in the eighth and preserve a 4-3 lead, while Clippard walked one batter, hit another (on a changeup) and then served up a game-tying double to deep left field (on another changeup).
Johnson told reporters afterward the Nationals had devised a gameplan against the Houston lineup that called for more offspeed pitches than usual, in part because of the small dimensions inside Minute Maid Park. But the 69-year-old skipper also sounded perturbed with the idea in the first place and stressed the effectiveness of a well-placed fastball.
Whether that gameplan is altered for tonight's game against the same club remains to be seen, though Johnson sure looked like he was committed to the idea.
We'll know after watching how Ross Detwiler approaches the Astros lineup early in the game. The left-hander (and any teammates who follow him out of the bullpen) might be wise to listen to his manager and trust his fastball to get those hitters out.
Unless the Nationals' gameplan is to just sit around and wait for baseball's worst team to make another colossal blunder in extra innings.