Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Game of inches goes against Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez pitched well for 6 1/3 innings but was charged with the loss.
Over the course of six months, there are going to be a handful of games that come down to one at-bat, one moment between pitcher and batter that determines the outcome of that individual contest.

One of those moments came today, with one out in the top of the seventh inning at Nationals Park. Pinch-hitter Nick Evans' double just inside the first-base line off Sean Burnett scored Josh Thole from second and gave the Mets a 3-2 lead that held up the rest of the afternoon.

"It's a game of inches," Jim Riggleman said afterward. "When you're winning games, those things go your way. And when you're not winning games, they don't seem to go your way. A right-handed hitter hitting a ball against a left-handed pitcher down the first-base line? You might see that two or three times a year. That's about it."

Yes, that's about it. The moment itself was pretty simple. But a lot more went into making that moment possible, from tough decisions by both managers to pitch selection by Burnett to Adam Dunn's attempt to corral the ball.

Here's what led up to the moment that decided today's game...

Livan Hernandez had been pitching another solid, if unspectacular ballgame. He allowed two runs in the third, but settled in after that and had retired four of the last five batters he faced when the pitcher's spot came up for New York with Thole on second and one out in a tie game.

"I threw the ball good," the veteran right-hander said. "I was throwing the ball wherever I want. My breaking ball was working perfectly."

Hernandez was sitting on 95 pitches, hardly a hefty workload for him, so he was somewhat surprised when he saw Riggleman emerge from the dugout.

"I can finish the inning, I think," he said.

Riggleman, though, didn't want Hernandez facing Mets leadoff man Angel Pagan (a switch-hitter) with a runner in scoring position. And once New York manager Jerry Manuel sent left-handed pinch-hitter Lucas Duda to the plate, Riggleman felt he needed to counter with the left-handed Burnett.

Manuel immediately countered back by having the right-handed Green pinch-hit for Duda, though Riggleman was ready for such a move.

"I went ahead and brought [Burnett] in knowing that they would pull the left-hander back and put a right-hander up," Riggleman said. "I'm very confident with Burnett against righties. So that's the decision I made."

Burnett's plan against Evans (or just about any right-handed hitter he faces) was to keep throwing sinkers on the outside corner. And he did just that, throwing five outside fastballs. The first two were called strikes. The the last three Evans fouled off awkwardly toward the first-base dugout and stands, one of them striking Nats coach Pat Listach in the arm.

With the count now 2-2 after three straight foul balls, Burnett decided to change things up a bit. Instead of throwing another sinker away, he decided to try to come inside.

"He was taking some funky swings and hitting them over the dugout," Burnett said. "So I figured I could take a chance in and probably get it in on him, and I did."

Indeed, Burnett's 2-2 fastball was in on the hands and shattered Evans' bat. The ball, though, bounced down the first-base line, barely staying fair.

"As a pitcher, you don't want to go to the well one too many times," Burnett said. "It was a good pitch. It broke his bat. It just happened to find a hole."

Evans was still worried about his earlier foul ball that struck Listach in the dugout.

"I thought I hit the guy in the face," he said. "I didn't see it. I was just trying to do something to hit the ball out over the plate. I'm just lucky it found a hole."

The ball wasn't all that well-struck -- it was a broken bat, after all -- so Adam Dunn might have had a play on it at first base. The big guy made a lumbering stab to his left but never came all that close. The ball rolled down the right-field line and Evans wound up coasting into second base.

The play was scored a double, not an error, and it was the correct call. It was far from a routine play.

Few would ever expect the defensively challenged Dunn to make that play. Would a better defensive first baseman have hauled it in? Maybe, though it would have been an above-average play to get to the ball, especially with it hooking in the opposite direction you'd normally expect off a right-handed hitter's bat.

"When you're a left-handed pitcher, right-handed hitter, everything that comes your way [at first base] is going to be [to your right]," Riggleman said. "It just was unfortunate. Burnett pitched him really good. Livo pitched a really good ballgame, and doesn't have anything to show for it."

Indeed, that one moment turned the entire game. The Mets took a 3-2 lead. Hernandez was on the hook for his 11th loss of the season. The Nationals never mounted a serious rally against the New York bullpen.

And thus the Nats lost a ballgame, lost a series and fell back to 20 games under .500. In the big scheme, no big deal. But on this day, it was a tough pill to swallow.

"It stinks," Burnett said. "Livan threw such a good game. It's tough. You don't want to give up other people's runs, especially when a guy throws such a good game. It also gives him a loss. That's the toughest part.

"I felt like I was doing what I had to. I took a chance by going in, and unfortunately it didn't work out. But at the same time, it was more unlucky than it was a bad pitch."

It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while, one unlucky moment can decide a ballgame.


nationals anthems said...

According to Charlie and Dave, Thole should have struck out instead of walking, ending the inning instead of giving the Mets another batter. But Thole craftily "drew" the call of ball 3 instead of a strike by acting like the pitch was waaaaay inside, when it was apparently reasonably clear from replay that it was a strike. That's an even finer slice of a bad break...

Feel Wood said...

Who's Green? My scorecard has Nick Evans pinch hitting for Duda and doubling in the winning run off Burnett. Did the dude who was pinch hitting for Jerome announce the wrong guy?

And I would pin this loss directly on Riggleman. Part of being a good manager and instilling a winning attitude in your players is to allow them to work their way out of problems, instead of pulling them at the first little sign of trouble. Riggleman never should have pulled Livo to bring in Burnett.

Anonymous said...

Green... Evans... what's in a name. Righthanded batter, lefthanded batter... ???

Cap Peterson said...

From my vantage point behind the 3B dugout, that was a very makeable play for Dunn. Don't know how he didn't at least get his glove on the ball to keep it in the infield. If he's going to be back next year (I know, small chance), he should play racquetball with Livan to sharpen his reflexes.

And, for key moments, let's not forget Bernie's very poor AB in the 6th when a fly ball would have given us the lead. Fell in the hole quickly and popped weakly in foul territory to Wright.

lesatcsc said...

Gee, wasn't it only two days ago everyone was enthusing over the juggernaught that the Nats offence had become. Since then 10 hits and 3 runs in two games (all of them off homers)and their vaunted 2,3,4,and 5 hitters have gone a combined 3 for 28 with no runs, RBIs and 1 BB. It seems to me something similar happened earlier in the season. This seems to be one of those teams that does better when it doesn't notice its doing well. Maybe the next time they go on a tear, we should all try hard not to mention it.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Sorry for the mistake guys, I must have had Nick Green's name on my mind.

Doc said...

Methinks your Freudian slip here Mark was how 'green' our hitters looked up against the knuckleball--an honest slip for sure!

BinM said...

No blown save for Burnett, or did I miss something?

BinM said...

I missed something - The Nats were down when Burnett entered the game.

Anonymous said...

No they weren't. It was tied at 2 when Burnett entered. He immediately allowed the inherited runner to score, which was charged to Livo. So on Burnett's record it looks like he got off scot free. I'm sure if Livo is going to get tagged with the loss anyway he would have much preferred to be the one out there trying to keep that from happening. And in balance, it looks like he should have been, doesn't it?

dale said...

Looked to me like the ball was hit several feet inside the line. But Dunn will not get that ball ten out of ten times.

Bases loaded, one out for the Nats, that was the other key inning that determined the outcome.

Souldrummer said...

Yeah, Bernadina had a godawful day offensively. At some point it's also about execution. Is Burnett a strikeout pitcher who can get the strikeout to avoid the contact that prevents the fluky play from happening? Is Dunn a good enough defender to prevent the ball from going to the outfield? Both of those guys have predictable weaknesses that are exposed in that play.

Bernadina's at bat though was godawful. Awful, awful stuff!

Process though says that after Burnett the bullpen was nails and looked really good. And Ramos reminded me why he looks he's an improvement over Pudge. More pop and fewer double plays with comparable defense. Almost laughed when I saw people saying he's a C+ prospect on a minor league board today. He's at least a B- with the defense and pop. Show me contact and an approach at the plate and he'll get as solid B. After that homer he was a bit too aggressive for my tastes. He should expect the Mets to have more respect for his power and be willing to see how they're going to approach him next.

As always, Nyjer, Nyjer, Nyjer. When he came up n that two out RBI situation I was like what lame ground ball will he hit next. I was putting him down for the patented pull the ball to second base 4-3 but he shocked me and went 1-3 instead. Painful to watch him play at this point.

Beautiful day at the park, though, and I'm still glad I went. I'll probably hit all the games in the Marlins series too.

DMan said...

This team can't hit soft tossing junk ballers to save their lives. Nor seemingly ever even make productive outs. Never have since we've had them in DC. That's what happed to the offense. How's about next spring they practice trying to hit against Livo until some of them can figure it out. And as much as he endeared himself to me last year, I can't believe how much I not want to see Nyjer gone.

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