THE RESULT: The Washington Nationals had to feel good about their chances for a sweep of the lowly Kansas City Royals today.  They sent to the mound phenom Stephen Strasburg, he of the record-setting MLB debut, against Brian Bannister, a pitcher who had given up 16 runs in his last two starts, covering only seven innings.

However, a couple of questionable decisions and a poor call by the home plate umpire made all the difference in the world, as the Nats fell to K.C. 1-0, before 31,913 overheated fans at Nationals Park.

The loss drops the Nats to 33-40 on the season.

Strasburg (L, 2-1) did not have his best day of the season, as the Royals were able to scratch off nine singles against him, but he struck out nine and did not walk a batter.  In fact, Strasburg threw 75 of his 95 pitches for strikes.

The lone run of the day was scored in the fifth inning, as K.C. strung together three straight singles, with former National Jose Guillen knocking in David DeJesus.

The first questionable decision by Manager Jim Riggleman came in the bottom of the fifth.  With runners at the corners and one out with Adam Kennedy at bat, Riggleman sent Willie Harris into the on-deck circle to pinch-hit for Strasburg, who had thrown 78 pitches at that point.

But Kennedy grounded to first and Josh Willingham, the runner at third, did not get a good break and had to retreat.  First baseman Billy Butler got the out at first, with Pudge Rodriguez moving up to second.

At that point, Riggleman recalled Harris and sent Strasburg back up, predictably to ground out, stranding both runners.

Riggleman's explanation was just as baffling as the decision.  "With two outs where it's gonna take a two-out base hit to get that run in, I felt like the odds go against you enough that it warrented Stephen to continue to pitch." 

Essentially, Riggleman gave up the at bat with runners at second and third, in a one-run ball game, when his team had managed two base hits to that point.

Even stranger stuff happened in the sixth inning.  Nyjer Morgan lead off with a walk (strange enough).  Riggleman decided at that point to try to play for one run to get Strasburg off the hook.  He had No. 2 hitter Roger Bernadina try to bunt him over.

With no outs in the sixth, it's a questionable enough strategy, but the execution made it worse:  Bernadina bounced it right to third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who calmly threw to second to force Morgan.

Worse still, Zimmerman followed with a single to right to put runners at first and second with one out.

Adam Dunn then lined a shot over the shift to right fielder Jose Guillen, who came up firing with the fleet Bernadina barreling around third base.  Replays showed that Bernadina did indeed beat the tag, but it was a bang-bang play and Bernadina did slide into the tag, giving the appearance of being out.

Bernadina made two mistakes on the play:  he got a bad jump at second to begin with, and he started his slide early at home, so he slowed considerably as he got to the plate.

Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt made an emphatic -- but incorrect -- out call, and Riggleman did not even come out of the dugout to complain.

Naturally, Bannister would strike out Josh Willingham to end the frame with two runners on.

Bad decision.  Bad execution.  Bad call.  Game over.

THE GOOD:  Strasburg.  He went six innings, striking out nine and walking none.  He set the MLB record for strikeouts in his first four starts with 41, passing Herb Score.  Stephen also got his first MLB hit -- a single off of Brian Bannister and Radison retrieved the ball.

THE BAD:  Gotta hang the bad on Riggleman today.  Two very questionable decisions and failing to argue a blown call at home constitutes a bad day for the manager.

THE UGLY:  Five hits and two walks against the Royals with Strasburg on the hill.  Let that sink in.

NEXT GAME:  Nats are off Thursday before starting a three-game weekend series 45 minutes up the road against the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in baseball.

All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/
Nationals News Network. All Rights Reserved


  1. Anonymous // June 24, 2010 at 4:57 PM  

    "With two outs where it's gonna take a two-out base hit to get that run in, I felt like the odds go against you enough that it warrented Stephen to continue to pitch."

    Geez, they don't even do the third down quick kick in football any more. When did it become a baseball strategy?