"When you have a chance to get out of the inning, you gotta make the play." Davey Johnson, on Ian Desmond's critical fourth inning error.
|John Mayberry slides into second safely after Ian Desmond dropped relay throw. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
There are many ways one could describe the Washington Nationals 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies last night. The focus from the Philly side will be on veteran starter Roy Oswalt, who dominated the Nats hitters for eight innings, allowing just eight hits (just one extra base hit) and one walk, striking out nine in the process. Or you could look at this performance as the continuing themes of John Lannan simply not being able to beat the Phillies and the Nats hitters failing once again with runners in scoring position.
All of those things would be accurate. But the biggest difference in the game last night was that the Phillies were able to take advantage of several key mistakes -- both physical and mental -- by the Nationals to carve out a win, in front of a Philly-partisan, record-setting crowd of 44,685 at Nats Park.
Lannan was fairly cruising in the top of the fourth -- with the game scoreless -- getting Ryan Howard to fly to left and Hunter Pence to ground to third for two quick outs. John Mayberry got a ground ball through the left side for a single, but Lannan picked Mayberry off which should have ended the inning. Unfortunately, Ian Desmond just flat-out dropped the relay throw from Michael Morse and Mayberry was safe. Lannan (L, 8-9, 3.61) then lost his focus and walked Carlos Ruiz on four pitches.
"[Desmond] just took his eye off it," manager Davey Johnson said with exasperation in the post-game press conference describing the game-changing error. "You know, sometimes it's not easy to do..." Johnson trailed off, but then continued, "You can't do that. I mean, you just can't give this ball club -- or any good ball club -- you can't give them, when you have a chance to get out of the inning, you gotta make the play."
Naturally, the error came back to haunt the Nats as the Phillies No. 8 hitter Wilson Valdez followed with a ball to the right field corner, which Jayson Werth allowed to get past him for a two-run triple.
Asked if Lannan was distracted by the error by his shortstop, Johnson was critical of Lannan, not Desmond. "You gotta pick us up. You have to come back and bury the next guy. He didn't do it so we're down two."
In the bottom of the same inning, the Nats had a chance to get right back at Oswalt (W, 6-7, 3.51). Ryan Zimmerman (3-for-4) singled and Michael Morse walked with no outs. Laynce Nix popped out for the first out of the inning, and Werth followed with a single to left that died quickly in the grass. Third base coach Bo Porter sent Zimmerman home, but John Mayberry threw a strike to the plate to nail the runner by a couple steps. Danny Espinosa struck out to end the frame.
|Ryan Zimmerman was tagged out by Carlos Ruiz at home. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Johnson defended Porter for sending Zimmerman, saying, "I like being aggressive. I'll never get on him for being overly aggressive." But then pointed out that Morse and Werth didn't move up on the play at the plate. "Morse should be more heads up on that,' Johnson said. "That was the only thing that I was upset about on that play. When there's a play at the plate you keep running."
Regardless, a more cautious approach would have had the bases loaded with one out and really had Oswalt on the ropes.
Lannan got in trouble again in the sixth inning, allowing a home run to Hunter Pence (15) and two straight singles, ending his night. Collin Balester came on in relief, but things continued to unravel for the Nats. Valdez hit a grounder to Zimmerman at third, and as Zim stepped on the bag for the first out he seemed to trip himself up a little and couldn't get set for the throw, instead lobbing a ball across the infield.
Oswalt was called on to sacrifice and Michael Morse made a clean pick-up, but he made a poor decision to try for the lead runner and all hands were safe, loading the bases. Jimmy Rollins singled past a diving Desmond and a run scored, making it 5-0. Rick Ankiel threw out Oswalt trying to reach third on the play, and after a couple more batters reached, Balester struck out Ryan Howard to end a long inning.
|Ruiz beats Morse's throw on sacrifice attmept. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Johnson was blunt in his assessment of the defensive miscue. "We made a bad choice going to third on the play, Morse on the bunt play. We should have taken the out, taken the second out [of the inning]. We're lucky we got out of that with as little trouble as we did."
Johnson might have thought the Nats got "lucky" there to only give up the one run, but by then the Phillies had scored plenty for Oswalt. Washington managed to put single base runners on in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings against the veteran pitcher, but could not cash any of those runners in.
Unlike Friday night, there would be no remarkable comeback. This time, it was the 30,000 Phillies fans turn, chanting, cheering and taunting as the evening went on, coming to a crescendo in the ninth when Werth was called out on strikes for the second out of the inning and then when Espinosa made the final out on a soft roller to Howard at first.
The Nationals have long said that they have to measure themselves against the Phillies and Braves, the cream of the division. There are plenty of places where the inequities still exist. But one of the simplest ways to make the playing field more level is to play good, smart fundamental baseball. Last night, the Nats fell into a familiar trap of errors, gaffes, mental mistakes, and over-aggressiveness, leading to another loss to their measuring stick.
And Davey Johnson knew it too. You could tell by his mannerisms and in his facial expressions in his post-game press conference last night. You could hear the exasperation and frustration in his voice. He knew his team had beaten itself. They don't have enough talent on the field yet to compensate when they don't play smart baseball, especially on defense and on the bases.
The Nats have made huge strides in the last two seasons to reduce the talent imbalance between themselves and the Phillies. But good teams don't beat themselves, and the Nats still do, far too often. Like the old adage says, it's the little things that kill.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman. He just continues to smoke the ball, going 3-for-4 and raising his average to .309 this season. In his last 29 games he's hitting .381.
THE BAD: Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, the Nats first two hitters in the order, combined to go 0-for-8 with three strikeouts.
THE UGLY: Desmond's drop. It was the pivotal play of the game.
THE STATS: Eight hits, one walk, 10 strikeouts. 1-for-5 w/RISP, seven LOB, one GIDP. E: Desmond (20).
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 1:35 pm. Chien-Ming Wang (2-2, 4.22) hosts Roy Halladay (15-5, 2.53)
|Thousands of Phillies fans celebrated Hunter Pence's home run. (All photos C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|