Lance Berkman swung at a ball just off the plate from Matt Capps in the bottom of the ninth with two strikes and two outs, down one with the bases loaded.

Except the home plate and third base umpires said he checked his swing.

Given new life, Berkman served the next pitch--in the exact same location--into left field, scoring two and giving the Houston Astros an 8-7 victory over the Washington Nationals. 

Capps got ahead of Berkman on sliders in on his hands, then went away with a fastball that Berkman offered at, clearly passing home plate with his bat.  Home plate umpire Gary Darling checked with third base umpire Bill Hohn, who gave the safe signal indicating no swing.

Not coincidentally, Hohn was at home plate last night when he tossed Houston starter Roy Oswalt aggressively after the veteran yelled--apparently at himself--in the third inning.

Hohn was subjected to a loud chorus of boos on every called strike the rest of the evening last night, and again tonight on two close foul balls by Astros hitters.

Reportedly, Hohn was given a "stern" message by the MLB director of umpires today for the quick trigger on Oswalt.

Did all of that play into his call on the check swing?  Did "veteran preference" for Berkman come into play?

Hard to tell.  But the replays clearly showed Berkman's bat crossed home plate and he should have been wrung up for the strikeout.

But question as well Capps' pitch choice.  He had been giving Berkman (3-for-5, 5 RBIs) a steady diet of breaking balls, and after getting him leaning onthe pitch outside, he would have been ripe for busting him inside.

Regardless, the biggest problem with the situation was the umpire--again--not doing his job.

This was a game the Nats really had no business being in--except the opponent was the truly terrible Houston Astros.  Washington was down 3-0 after the first and 4-0 after three innings, as starter Craig Stammen was simply unprepared to start the game.

As bad as all that was, Washington had several opportunities to take control of this game, aided by poor play from the Astros.

The Nats had a four-run rally in the fourth, benefitting from two Houston errors and a sacrifice fly from Josh Willingham.

But a home run from Hunter Pence in the fourth and a run against Drew Storen in the fifth put the Nats behind the 8-ball again.

The Nats got another gift in the eighth, when Willie Harris got grazed by a Brandon Lyon fastball to foce in a run.  Then, in the ninth against Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, a legitimate rally.

Nyjer Morgan started things with an infield single, and Zimmerman and Adam Dunn both walked to load the bases.  Josh WIllingham struck out looking, bringing up the bottom of the Nats order.

But Ian Desmond lined a single past the shortstop, and Roger Bernadina followed with a broken-bat single past a leaping Berkman to give the Nats the lead.

Unfortunately, Wilton Lopez (W, 2-0) came in an got pinch-hitter Alberto Gonzalez and catcher Carlos Maldonado, and the Nats left the bases loaded, setting up the Astros dramatic turn-around.

It's easy to blame the missed call on Berkman in the ninth inning, and it's a glaring example of poor umpiring.

The bottom line is that the Nationals left 11 men on base, and the team was 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position.  That the Nats had 12 opportunities with men in scoring position attests to their competitiveness.

But it also attests to the Astros' game plan that they would not let the heart of the Nats order beat them again.  Ryan Zimmerman was walked four times; Adam Dunn twice.

Game three of the four-game series is tomorrow night.  The Nats send John Lannan (2-2) against Wandy Rodriguez (2-7).

NATS NOTES:  Nyjer Norgan went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI in the second spot in the order, the second game in a row he's hit in that spot.

The eventual game-tying run got on base via a Ryan Zimmerman error in the ninth.  Pedro Feliz hit a routine ground ball that simply went under the glove of the gold glove thitd baseman.

Stammen went five innings after his disastrous first inning.  He gave up five earned runs on nine hits and three walks, striking out four.

Washington struck out 13 times, walked seven and left 11 men on base.

1 comments

  1. Anonymous // June 2, 2010 at 1:27 PM  

    Hohn sucks. As mentioned Berkman clearly swung and as Jim Riggleman said after the game, you want to give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt since Berkman was swinging to begin with. When it comes to an apparent idiot like Hohn deciding the game, instant replay should be able to be utilized. But only for umpire Bill Hohn. As stated, he sucks.