Friday, July 2, 2010

A couple mistakes that lost a game

Photo courtesy George Burkes
Michael Morse couldn't grab Alex Cora's three-run triple in the fourth.
Jim Riggleman could only say this will be "a learning experience" for Roger Bernadina. And really, what else could the Nationals manager say after his rookie right fielder ended tonight's 5-3 loss to the Mets by getting picked off second base with Willie Harris at the plate representing the winning run and facing a two-out, full-count pitch from Francisco Rodriguez?

Has anyone ever seen a game end with a pickoff like that?

"That's a good question," Riggleman said. "I don't know if I've seen one end that way. It's painful. But they made a great play and they got him."

Pretty much everyone inside the Nationals' clubhouse was at a loss for words at the end of the latest frustrating loss in a ever-lengthening stretch of them. There was plenty of dead time over the course of 2 hours and 56 minutes on South Capitol Street, but a handful of crucial plays wound up determining the outcome of this one. Had those plays simply gone the other way, the Nats might actually be enjoying a two-game winning streak right now.

Let's start with the Mets' decisive blow: Alex Cora's three-run triple in the fourth. Luis Atilano was THISCLOSE to wriggling his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam until he left an 0-1 fastball out over the plate to Cora, the Mets' .228-hitting second baseman.

"I thought I could get out of this," Atilano said. "But I made a horse**** pitch. Sorry to say it like that."

Expletive-worthy pitch or not, Atilano still might have gotten out of the inning had right fielder Michael Morse managed to haul in Cora's drive to the fence. He came close (as you can see from the above picture) but not quite.

"I tried the best I could," Morse said. "It was one of those that was do-or-die."

That blast, plus pitcher Jonathon Niese's subsequent RBI double, allowed the Mets to open up a 5-0 lead and sent Atilano to the showers after only 3 2/3 innings (the shortest start of his brief career). And the lead basically stayed that way all night, at least until Josh Willingham homered in the seventh to put the Nationals on the board at last.

Yep, this one was on the verge of becoming just another lackluster loss for the Nats. Starter gets knocked out early. Offense can't do squat. Drive home safely.

And then someone reminded the Nationals that this game was, in fact, not over yet so they might as well try to string together a dramatic rally in the bottom of the ninth. It began with a one-out Ryan Zimmerman walk, then continued with a two-out Ivan Rodriguez double.

All of a sudden, the tying run was on deck, so Mets manager Jerry Manuel brought in Rodriguez for what was now a save situation. His first encounter was with Bernadina, who six weeks ago crushed the second homer of his career at Citi Field off K-Rod. And the rookie outfielder delivered again, lining an RBI single to right to cut the lead to 5-2. Another RBI single, this time from Ian Desmond, made it 5-3 and brought life to a crowd of 24,410 that to that point had little reason to make noise.

By the time Willie Harris (trying to be the Met-killer yet again) worked the count full, the ballpark was rocking, a previously lifeless game now hanging in the balance with one pitch.

A pitch that never was thrown.

Wanting to get a good jump on the 3-2, two-out pitch (as all players are taught to do) Bernadina started leaning toward third. Just one problem: Shortstop Ruben Tejada was sneaking up behind him all along, and when Rodriguez spun around to fire the pickoff throw to first, Bernadina was dead meat.

Game over.

"You don't expect it," Bernadina said. "But I was late. That's all I can say. I was late. It's not an excuse."

Riggleman had a few brief words for his young right fielder afterward. Not that Bernadina needed the message. He knew what he did wrong.

"It's over," Riggleman said. "It happened. And it's got to be a learning experience, not only for Bernie, but for the other players. When we get in that situation, we won't make that mistake again."

Small consolation at the end of yet another frustrating night at the ballpark.


Ernie said...

I just got back from the game as well. We have the "Abe" quarter-season package of tickets. It has to be the one with the worst record. Add in the handful of extra games I've gone to this year and the Nats are 6-12 when I'm in the stadium. 6-12? What am I saying? If I were a starting pitcher I'd be the ace of this staff!

A few more thoughts:

1. Nyjer Morgan is afraid of the wall in center field. Has been since the Pagan inside-the-park-homerun.

2. Michael Morse is clueless in right field. He missed the catch on the triple but at least two other times broke the wrong way on fly balls and nearly missed the put-outs. He reminded me of Adam Dunn out there. The Morse/Maxwell lovefest has to end. These guys are terrible. At least Bernadina can run and has an arm. But see #3.

3. I have been asking for weeks but have never gotten an answer: Is there anyone on this team in charge of coaching baserunning? Tonight I think I figured it out. There is not. Pitiful.

I'm leaving for a 2-week vacation. At this point I need a bigger break from this team than I do from work. I wonder if I'll know half the roster when I get back to town.

LoveDaNats said...

Just got back from the game. The crowd was on it's feet. The Nats had an unexpected rally going. Willie Harris called to the plate. I thought "oh no, automatic out" until I remembered that the Mets HATE Willie Harris! Could he do it again? The collective groan of the crowd at the pick-off was pure agony. Another loss. Ouch.

Doc said...

@ Ernie: I have the same question. I think that we can account for the pitching and hitting coaches---but that's where it seems to end!

Ernie said...


I agree that the crowd was really getting into it. The only other (non-Strasburg) game I can remember with a similar late-inning surge in crowd energy this year was the 10-7 loss to the Mets back in mid-May. We batted around in the 8th and had the bases loaded with Dunn at the plate. But we also had 2 outs. And at this point in the season everyone knows what we didn't know then: Dunn at the plate with RISP and 2 outs = groans and disappointment.

For as much as people get down on Nats fans, I think this town is ready to get behind a team that can actually come through once in a while.

Anonymous said...

So what do you guys think Willie would have done on the ensuing 3-2 pitch had Bernie not gotten picked-off?

I was thinking gapper that would have tied the game. You?

Anonymous said...

In the press conference after the game, Riggleman said of Bernadina: well, he's a young player, it's a learning experience. You must be kidding me. I knew not to get picked off to end a game when I was TEN (10) years old.

This is a low-IQ team. Not baseball IQ, intelligence quotient IQ. These are dumb men.

When the pitcher gets a ground ball with two outs, on 29 clubs, he starts walking to the dugout. On the Nats the pitcher holds his breath.

There must be a statistic showing the percent of times a team fails to convert double plays. I bet the Nats lead all teams all time in this stat.

We are becoming the Orioles, finding new and more embarrassing ways to fail every night. Contrary to all the garbage we're reading, this is not a short-term trend that will naturally turn around. It is ALREADY A 2 AND 1/2 SEASON TREND AND THERE IS NO REASON IT CANNOT LAST FIVE YEARS, OR TEN, JUST LIKE BALTIMORE.

I think we're already seeing a Strasburg attendance effect, and it's not what we wanted. I expected a big crowd tonight and we had 24K. I think people are guessing when Stras will start and only planning to go to those games. After we strand him another game tomorrow without run support, that trend will get worse too.

One of the worst nights ever at Nats Park. This team is in trouble. Novelty gags like El Duque only make the whole sickening debacle worse.

Anonymous said...

Bring out Strasburg. Bring out the show pony. Walk him up and down in front of the stands. Rub his calfs with linament. Let him prance around a little. Sell those tickets!

Steve M. said...

Anon at 8:00AM, I have friends driving 400 miles today to watch their Mets, but mostly to see Strasburg.

The Nats don't have to advertise this guy. He really is better than advertised.

Personally, it is great having a true ace pitcher although I considered Jordan Zimmermann ace stuff without the hype. It is fun going to a game with 30,000 Nats fans. Sure, 15,000 of the fans are bandwagon types but who cares. There is an energy level you don't get at other Nats games.

Now the Nats have to get him some RUNS!!!!!!

natsfan1a said...

I was encouraged by a couple of things: the way the bullpen kept the team in the game, and the way the team rallied in the 9th (at least, until the pickoff - ouch). Also have to say that I like Atilano even more after the postgame comments in which he held himself accountable.

Anonymous said...

Right on regarding baserunning coaching. I wonder about the situations that cry out for taking a ptich or two. So many Nats step up and hack away when taking one or two is clearly appropriate.

Section 222 said...

I went to the game last night too and agree with much that has been said here, except the for supposed anti-Strasburg effect on attendance. More likely, it's the holiday weekend that is depressing attendance for these games, though Strasburg will get his sellout.

I was disappointed in Morse's play as well. Not so much the triple -- though it was too bad, but he really did break the wrong way on several routine flies and had to come charging in to make the plays. Nyjer could have caught Wright's double as well -- the ball hit the bottom of the wall.

What was I hoping for from Willie H? A game winning home run of course. But what was I expecting? A strikeout or popup.

Doc said...

It's a "learning experience", only if you can learn. It's not apparent that players like Morgan are learning. Some in the Nats FO, like Davey Johnson, probably have this figured out. Maybe Riggleman has too, but he's not being honest enough with the press.

phil dunn said...

If the pupils fail to learn, it's because the teachers fail to teach. The lousy base running and fielding is ultimately the blame of the manager and his team of coaches.

Anonymous said...


Well the team has won 22% more games than last year at this pace. Is the team 22% better. I don't think so.

Fielding I would say is about 10% worse than last year. For being a priority this season it has been a bust. The timing and aftermath of the errors is no better than last year.

Hitting 10% worse than last year. Last year they averaged at least a run a game better.

Starting pitchers without Strasburg about the same as last year with Strasburg 20% better.

Relieve pitching 40% better at least than last year.

Overall assessment 10% better than last year .

However how about learning from the mistakes instead of just repeating them, then I would say improvement will become much faster and much more.

How do I get a permanent name?

Anonymous said...

When it comes to pure baseball fundamentals, like bunting, base running and fielding, the Nationals are really lacking. This is the fault of Riggleman and his coaching staff.

N. Cognito said...

phil dunn said...
"If the pupils fail to learn, it's because the teachers fail to teach."

That's right. It's never the students' fault! [end sarcasm]

Anonymous said...

"This is a low-IQ team. Not baseball IQ, intelligence quotient IQ. These are dumb men."

Hate to be stereotypical, but as a rule jocks aren't known for their IQ. Perhaps the only class of people more dumb than jocks are internet commenters who think they're so smart.

Anonymous said...

Buddha said, "When the student is ready the teacher appears."

This is the salient existential conundrum circling, harpy-like, around the Nationals. The students are never ready.

Their leadoff batter emerges from a closed-door meeting, an hour-long managerial excoriation, a tyrannical tirade, a fulsome fulmination on foundling fundamentals, and gets picked off first base in the first frame.

These students are never ready. They see baseball through the glass, darkly. Should Morse hit a homer today, and run around the bases in the wrong direction, I shan't be surprised.

natsfan1a said...

Anon @ 10:45, re. getting a permanent name: If you don't have an account that you wish to use, one possibility is to use the Name/URL option on the "Comment as" menu. You can type your name/moniker into the Name field and leave the URL field blank. Another possibility is to type your name/moniker at the end of your post when using the Anonymous option.

Anonymous said...

A note re the Nationals' IQ. I'm not comparing the Nats IQ to the general population, or to smartypants Internet posters. I'm comparing them to the other teams in Major League Baseball.

My three hypotheses:

1. If the Nats were given the same standard IQ test as the other teams in MLB, the Nats would place last on their team IQ score.

2. If the Nats and all MLB teams were given the identical Baseball IQ test, established, tested, and proctored by respected baseball authorities, they would score lowest of all teams.

3. If the Nats' entire team entered a completely unscientific, empirically empty, but still interesting competition against all other teams using a popular board game as Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit, they would finish last there too.

It's a rhetorical group of hypotheses, obviously, and will never be tested by evidence, but 40 years of studying baseball and 30 years of human factors/situational awareness and intelligence research tells me this team has drawn statistically-significant number of dumb men, as well as low mean intelligence (baseball and general) for the entire team.

I would point out one behavior-based indicator that I might be right: the laughter of the Mets as they left the field.

K.D. said...

Anon at 12:39; I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy; 30 years of studying the intelligence of people you only have disdain for. Personally I think these men would just chuckle hearing your rhetoric... all the way to the bank. They are playing a GAME, they love, sacrificing the time they could have spent playing Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy and having a great time providing for their families. I remember reading that the most common game played in some clubhouses is chess, never considered a game for dummies.

Sec3MySofa said...

To be fair, there's lots of stupid people playing chess. They just don't play it very well.

Sec3MySofa said...

(But I bet most of them could figure out how to put a name on their posts. Just sayin.)

natsfan1a said...

One thing, though, is that chess can be exciting, given the right announcer:

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