Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another close game

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen pitched well enough to win, but that wasn't enough today.
SAN FRANCISCO -- What if Adam Dunn's drive off Barry Zito had traveled 12 inches farther and not ricocheted back on the field? What if Nate Schierholtz was unable to reach down and drive Sean Burnett's well-placed slider into center field for a key base hit? What if Willie Harris hadn't grounded into a killer of a double play? And what if Dunn hadn't booted Ryan Rohlinger's broken-bat grounder?

What if only one of those key moments in the Nationals' 5-4 loss to the Giants today had gone the other way? Might we be talking now about an impressive series victory at AT&T Park instead of a frustrating loss?

"It's bear hunting," reliever Tyler Walker said. "Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Too bad we were on the bad end of it today."

You can play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game 162 times a year. And in the end, it all usually evens out. But you feel like the majority of Nats' games come down to these one or two key moments, you're not imagining things.

Twenty-seven of the Nationals' 48 games this season have been decided by one or two runs. (They're 16-11 in those games.) More recently, 17 of their last 22 games have been decided by one or two runs. (They're only 8-9 over that span.)

This just seems to be the identity of the 2010 Nats, who rarely put together enough offense to blow someone out but rarely get such poor pitching that they can't keep things close.

Such was the case again this afternoon along McCovey Cove, where a tight ballgame turned the Giants' way during the deciding seventh inning. When the inning began, the Nationals held a 3-2 lead, buoyed by early home runs from Dunn and Josh Willingham and some effective pitching from starter Craig Stammen. And when Dunn connected off Zito for what briefly looked like his second homer of the day, everything seemed under control.

But Dunn's blast landed on a narrow concrete ledge high above the right-field fence and bounced back onto the field. First-base umpire Casey Moser immediately ruled the ball in play, and Dunn coasted into second with a double. From the Nats dugout, though, players and coaches threw their arms out and signaled it should have been a home run.

The crew convened under the stands to watch a replay and quickly returned upholding the call, which according to the ballpark ground rules, was correct.

Had Dunn merely hit the ball 12 inches farther, none of this would have been up for debate.

"I hit it good enough to be a homer, but I know here you've got to hit it good," he said. "I wasn't sure if it was going to be a homer or not, but apparently it wasn't."

The Nats wound up scoring one run that inning instead of two, and that proved costly in the bottom of the seventh when the Giants turned Dunn's error, a passed ball by new backup catcher Carlos Maldonado, Schierholtz's single on Burnett's down-and-away slider, Andres Torres' broken-bat double to right and Freddy Sanchez's two-run single to left off Walker into three runs.

Bang, bang, bang. Before any of them had time to process what happened, the Nationals' 4-2 lead was a 5-4 deficit.

"It's tough, because I felt like I made good pitches," said Burnett, who was charged with the loss. "And going back looking at the video, they were good pretty good pitches. Schierholtz did a great job of hitting. A broken bat's just bad luck, too. Combined, it looks pretty bad. But at the same time, I made good pitches, so you can't get too upset at yourself."

The Nationals weren't so much upset at themselves as they showered and dressed this afternoon as they were upset at the circumstances. In a season that has already been full of nip-and-tuck games, this was another one that somehow got away.

"I think everybody collectively, all of us, can say, 'Man, I could have done a little more,'" manager Jim Riggleman said. "Me, myself, the coaching staff, the players, everybody feels like, 'Boy, if I could have done a little something else, maybe we win that ballgame.'

"That's the way you want them to feel. You don't want anybody to be satisfied with their performance. You want them to feel like we could have won that ballgame, agonize over it a little bit and then shower it off and forget about it and go get the next one tomorrow."

From what we've seen over the last two months, the Nationals will have no trouble wiping the slate clean tomorrow and coming back with a strong effort in San Diego.

But the longer they linger around the .500 mark and around the fringes of a pennant race, the more you're likely to look back at today's game as a golden opportunity gone awry.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

Stammen = The Bally Star of 2010

JayB said...


Is Maxwell any help at all? Do you see any sign he can hit even AAA pitching? What would you do with him at this point? Rizzo really needs to face facts and do what it takes to get a RF in here.

Steve M. said...

JayB - As has been said before about Maxwell House is he will either walk or strikeout with occasional power and a horrific batting average.

I figured he would be in the lineup today and this would be the day to see if he could try to keep his spot. I guess on Saturday he is gone.

He has more lives than a cat!

Ken said...

Not just a legitimate right fielder, but also a center fielder than catch the ball, run the bases without costing outs, or maybe a couple or three starting pitchers who can actually pitch into the 7th inning and maybe even earn the win.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I'll always have a soft spot for Maxy for that walkooff that ended the dreadful 2009 season and got me through that even more dreadful winter we just had. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see Maxy is overmatched against big league pitching, and may be overmatched at AAA as well. They're working on his vision, and maybe they'll find something back at SYR. He's got tools, he seems like a great kid but, in the bigs, that only gets you so far. Like a one-way ticket back to SYR.

Win two of three in San Diego, then whip those helpless Astros, and take Oswalt back on the team plane with us.

Nats fan in NJ said...

Who's pitching tomorrow in SD? Chico?

Nats fan in NJ said...

Ok, never mind, I know see the previous thread. Duh, need more coffee...

Knoxville Nat said...

Fight the Padres hard,whip up on the Astros but as far as I'm concerned leave Oswalt behind. We would have to give up far too much for him and I don't see the Nats as a true contender this year or even next year just yet. Too many other holes to fill with this team.

Anonymous said...

We don't need Oswalt--he doesn't have much tread left on his tires. What we need is a first baseman who can field and a right fielder who can hit.

Yockomon said...

Agree with Knoxville... Too many farmhand pitchers ready for a look-see, to bring in Oswalt, not this year. Love Bernadina, but they need another solid bat, fer sure.

Anonymous said...

Would it kill us to sign Jermaine Dye for the rest of the year?

erocks33 said...

"Would it kill us to sign Jermaine Dye for the rest of the year? "

Yes. Yes it would.

Richard in BB said...

Anon. 8:21 And a RP not named Clippard, Capps OR Storen who can come in and actually hold a hard earned lead!! And YES it would kill us to sign a guy that is too old and has too many flaws that no one else wants either. Hopefully we're finished goin down that road.

Steve M. said...

If Nyjer Morgan can find his way back to his July form, this team will go a long way as the team will get its offensive swagger back and blow away some teams.

This SanFran series is the tale of 2 teams. Laying an egg against Wellemeyer then blowing away Lincecum and doing well against Zito.

I just want to see them pour on the runs when the other team's back is against the wall.

Oh, and NO NO NO to Jermaine Dye.

Anonymous said...

They could use Jason Castro EVEN if they drafted Harper. I suspect that was the reason Brer Fox was nosing around the chicken coop in Houston.

Anonymous said...

Do you really believe Riggleman would ever play Dye over Maxwell, Harris, Bernadina, and Guzman? He isn't even using Morse?

Anonymous said...

For those who might pile on Dunn for his defense, remember that every throw to first during the course of a game that he has to reach for is a throw that would have pulled NJ of the bag (or would have gotten by him altogether). By knowing that all they have to do is "hit the side of a barn" when they throw to first, Dunn makes the rest of the infield better defensively.

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