"You know, it's a game of inches sometimes." -- Nats manager Jim Riggleman
Washington, D.C. -- Sean Burnett has been one of manager Jim Riggleman's most trusted relievers the last two seasons, getting his job done many more nights than not. In the ninth inning last night, it was a "not."
Burnett gave up three straight singles to start the inning to load the bases and, with Drew Storen warmed up and watching from a crouch on the bullpen mound, proceeded to allow them all to score and then some, with the big blow coming off the bat of Daniel Murphy, a two-run double that finally ended Burnett's night, and the Nats chances to win the game.
The 6-3 loss drops the Nationals to 10-13 and drops them into last place, a half-game behind the streaking Mets (11-13), winners of six in a row. The Nats have lost three in a row and six of their last seven games.
All told, Burnett (L, 0-1, 5.73) faced seven batters, retiring two. But both outs -- a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right field and a ground out to short that backup utility infielder Brian Bixler couldn't get out of his glove to try a play at the plate -- scored runs for the Mets.
Riggleman defended his reliever in his post-game comments, saying he preferred the matchups with the left-handed Burnett against the Mets scheduled hitters.
"That was just the manager's decision," Riggleman started. "They had three out of four lefties coming up in the inning. My concern was [Jason] Bay leading off and then we had [Ike] Davis, Willie Harris, pinch-hitter [for the pitcher's spot], [catcher Josh] Thole. So I just felt that my confidence in [Burnett] was that he's been very effective for us; he would get it done there. If I had to go to Drew [Storen] with an out or two, that's what we would do if a possible right-hander came up."
However, that's not what Riggleman actually did. The Mets did indeed pinch-hit Chin-lung Hu, a right-handed batter, for the pitcher's spot, and Riggleman stayed with Burnett anyway. Hu's ball to the right field wall scored the first run of the inning from third and both the other runners advanced. After that, the floodgates opened, all while Storen watched from the bullpen.
Only after Murphy's bases-clearing double did Riggleman summon Storen, who promptly struck out David Wright with a 97 MPH fastball.
"I thought [Burnett] threw okay. You know, it's a game of inches sometimes," Riggleman said, alluding to Bay's single past the outstretched Danny Espinosa at second and Davis' flare that barely eluded a diving Roger Bernadina in left field.
The Mets comeback spoiled the Nats own piece of clutch hitting the previous inning. Adam LaRoche led off with a double down the left field line, and took third on a passed ball by catcher Thole. Riggleman had Bixler pinch-run, and Wilson Ramos delivered the run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
All of this spoiled a terrific performance by starter Tom Gorzelanny. He allowed just one run on five hits and one walk, striking out four. He induced nine ground ball outs and took advantage of a free-swinging Mets team.
The loss drops the Nats record in games when they score less than five runs to a woeful 1-12. With the World Series champion San Francisco Giants coming to town this weekend, then a 10-day, nine-game road trip looming, this loss hurts even more than usual.
THE GOOD: Gorzelanny clearly had his best start as a member of the Nationals. Roger Bernadina, inserted on a double-switch when Gorzy was lifted, went two-for-two with a double.
THE BAD: Jayson Werth flat-out dropped a ball in right field on Gorzelanny's last batter. It was originally scored an error, which would have been Werth's fourth of the season, but it was inexplicably changed by the official scorekeeper to a hit.
THE UGLY: Burnett. 0.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K. U-G-L-Y.
THE STATS: 10 hits, one walk, four Ks. 1-for-9 with RISP, 8 LOB. No errors (officially).
NEXT GAME: Thursday at 7:05 pm v. New York Mets. Livan Hernandez (2-2, 3.48) faces Chris Capuano (2-1, 5.95).