Nats open flat in home playoff debut


Nats open flat in home playoff debut

Updated at 7:25 p.m.

They turned out in record numbers to witness the first postseason game played on District of Columbia soil in 79 years, and perhaps coax the home ballclub to victory in the pivotal third game of this five-game National League Division Series.

The 45,017 who crammed themselves into Nationals Park on a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon, though, could yell, scream and sing along to "Take on Me" when Michael Morse stepped to the plate until their vocal chords were damaged.

That still wouldn't have prevented Edwin Jackson from digging his team into another early hole, wouldn't have prevented a pressing Nationals lineup from continuing to strand runners in scoring position and wouldn't have prevented a previously air-tight bullpen from turning a manageable deficit into an 8-0 thumping at the hands of the Cardinals.

"To see the stadium full and people excited, it's a long time coming," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Unfortunately, we didn't give them too much to cheer about."

No, it's never a good sign when the emotional high point of the day was the ovation for Frank Robinson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, not anything that happened after Jackson threw the actual first pitch.

Needing a big performance from someone, anyone, in attempt to turn this series back in their favor, the Nationals instead laid their second straight egg against the defending World Series champions and now find their once-charmed season on life support.

After a disheartening, 12-4 loss Monday in St. Louis, the Nationals returned home knowing they could take this series simply by winning twice in three days. They'll now have to win on back-to-back days, staring elimination in the face after their second-straight lopsided loss.

"Getting boat-raced is never fun, but a loss is a loss," shortstop Ian Desmonds said. "If you lose 1-0 or 8-0, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, it's 2-1 and we've got a ballgame to play tomorrow."

For a team that led the major leagues with 98 wins, this will be the first taste of real adversity in more than six months. Whether desperation brings out the best in this postseason-inexperienced bunch remains to be seen.

"I take nothing for granted," manager Davey Johnson said. "We are not out of this by a long shot. ... Shoot, I've had my back to worse walls than this. I like my ballclub, and I think we'll come out and play a good game tomorrow."

The way things played out today, perhaps a little desperation is in order. The Nationals can't claim their calm and carefree approach to date in this series has worked.

Whatever struggles the Nationals endured today on the mound or at the plate certainly weren't from lack of fan support. The ballpark was throbbing from the moment players were introduced a full 30 minutes before first pitch and kept coming back to life every time a big situation arose.

"I think our fan base and the city and the surrounding area can be proud of this team, and we can be proud of our fans," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "They showed up today and did a great job."

The home team simply couldn't produce in any of those situations to give the fans what they so desperately wanted.

It didn't help that Jackson dug them into another early hole, giving up four runs through his first two innings.

The right-hander had already displayed mixed results in two late-season starts against the Cardinals, holding them to one unearned run over eight dominant innings at home on Aug. 30, then failing to get out of the second inning during a nightmare, nine-run outing Sept. 28 in St. Louis.

Which version of Jackson would show up this time? Though the end results weren't as bad, he looked much more like the latter than the former.

The Cardinals got to Jackson for a solo run in the top of the first, with Matt Holliday and Allen Craig producing back-to-back, two-out hits to put the Nationals in a 1-0 hole and leave the crowd murmuring.

Then they really got to him in the top of the second, racking up four consecutive base hits to open the inning, the biggest blow a three-run homer to left by rookie shortstop Pete Kozma on a first-pitch fastball that tailed over the inner half of the plate.

"It was supposed to be away, and it missed middle-in," Jackson said. "It was something that if he is trying to be aggressive and just turn and burn, it was the perfect pitch for him."

Jackson battled his way back and managed to salvage a five-inning start out of it all, but the damage was done. And considering the way the Nationals have been delivering -- or, more accurately, not delivering -- at the plate in this series, the size of the deficit almost didn't matter.

Continuing their trend from Games 1 and 2 at Busch Stadium, the Nationals did manage to put men on base. In fact, they recorded at least one hit in each of the first six innings this afternoon.

They just couldn't drive any of them in. Whether it was Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse stranding two runners in the bottom of the first, Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki leaving a man on in the bottom of the fourth, Morse flying out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth or Werth popping out with two on in the bottom of the sixth, squandered opportunities were abundant.

For the day, the Nationals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Their only players who have recorded a hit with a man on second or third base in this series: Suzuki, Tyler Moore and Jordan Zimmermann.

"We're getting guys on base. That's good," Morse said. "That's part of it. Hopefully tomorrow we can change that and start getting guys in."

Making only his fourth start of the season after dealing with s nerve injury in his right shoulder, Chris Carpenter by no means flashed the top form that made him the ace of previous Cardinals postseason rotations. But he was good enough to make big pitches when he needed them, even if most of his biggest outs came via popups or flyballs, not grounders or strikeouts.

Each time the Nationals gave themselves a chance, the crowd rose to its feet and tried to transfer its strength to whichever batter stood in the box. And each time the place grew silent after Carpenter snuffed out another rally.

"We had him in some tough spots," Werth said. "We had him on the ropes a couple times. We were just one bloop away from a totally different ballgame."

Such was the tone of the afternoon, a record-setting gathering desperately wanting the home team to do something worth a roar but ultimately left with nothing to do but mutter and start fretting about the do-or-die situation the Nationals will now face tomorrow.

"We know what we've got to do," LaRoche said. "We've kind of got our backs up against the wall now. Take it one game at a time. It's a must-win tomorrow."

NL East: Barry Bonds wouldn't take picture with Dodgers star Pederson


NL East: Barry Bonds wouldn't take picture with Dodgers star Pederson

Apparently being an MLB All-Star and home run derby runner-up is not enough for Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds to take a picture with you.

That's according to Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, a 2015 NL All-Star. He said he tried to take a picture with Bonds before a Marlins-Dodgers game last month and got rejected.

Ouch. Pederson described the interaction on Fox Sports Live and it sounds like he was pretty surprised by Bonds' reaction. Then again, who wouldn't be? It seems like a simple request.

Many athletes current and former take pictures with fans all the time and those are just fans. It would seem even more likely to get that picture if you are part of their fraternity as a pro ball player.

Here is Pederson describing the exchange on FS1:

[Via Sports Illustrated]

Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets


Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets

The margin for error is always going to be slim when you're facing your most closely-matched division rival and when they've got a pitcher as lethal as lefty Steven Matz on the mound, and on Wednesday it was a mistake by Daniel Murphy at second base that loomed large in a 2-0 Nationals loss to the New York Mets.

With the Nats down a run in the seventh inning and Mets infielder Matt Reynolds on first base, first baseman Eric Campbell smacked a hard groundball to Murphy at second. It shot up to the left of his glove and through his legs into center field.

That put runners on the corners with one out and set up an RBI single to left field by Mets catcher Rene Rivera. The score was then 2-0 and that would hold until the final out was made.

After the game Murphy brought up his mistake on his own when asked an unrelated question. 

"I misplayed another groundball, which just needs to stop happening. I just need to work harder on that," Murphy said of his team-high fifth error of the season.

Murphy came to the Nats with a reputation for subpar defensive play and this was the most obvious case so far of it affecting the outcome of a game. Though the Nats didn't score any runs on the day, Murphy explained how he thinks his mistake altered the momentum and scope of the contest.

"I think it was a double play ball and [Tanner Roark] should have gotten out of the inning. Then it was 2-0 and it just changes our approach from an offensive perspective," he said.

Murphy was asked if the ball took a bad bounce and he declined to go there, instead referring to the sequence as a "bad play by me."

His manager, Dusty Baker, didn't fault Murphy for the loss and instead focused on the dominant performance by Mets starter Steven Matz.

"Errors are part of the game," Baker said.

Baker, of course, can live with the occasional error as long as Murphy is atop the majors with a .394 batting average. Murphy's OPS is 1.043 and he's on pace for a career-high in homers. He's been as important to the Nationals' first-place start through 47 games as anybody.

Murphy knows defense is an area of game that needs improvement and Baker is not too concerned about it at this point.

"Murph works hard at it, he works very hard and he takes it hard when he doesn't make the plays," Baker said.

Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals


Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Facing any pitcher for the first time can be a challenge, especially when that foe is an emerging star lefty with a mid-90s sinker that dives over the plate like a fighter jet.

Mets southpaw Steven Matz has had his way with the Nationals on Wednesday, just as he has with the rest of the league in his brief MLB career. He went eight efficient, shutout innings with just four hits allowed, at times retiring Nationals hitters with leisure. Perhaps they'll have better luck the next time they see him, but this simply wasn't their day.

Matz outdueled Nats starter Tanner Roark, who was pretty good himself. He went seven innings with two runs allowed, only one of them earned. The second came home after a Daniel Murphy error that ultimately proved a costly one.

What it means: The Mets have evened up the season series at 3-3 and cut the Nats' division lead back to a half-game in the NL East. The Nationals fell to 28-19 on the year with the St. Louis Cardinals up next.

Roark strong again: Roark was excellent in his first meeting with the Mets of this season despite giving up an early run on a homer to David Wright in the first inning. The right-hander settled in after that and at one point retired eight in a row from the second through the fourth. Roark did let another run in in the seventh inning before he was removed, but it wasn't earned. That's thanks to Murphy's error on a hard-hit groundball right to him by Eric Campbell. Murphy couldn't corral it and that set up runners on the corners for Rene Rivera, who singled to left field to make it 2-0 Mets. It was Murphy's fifth error this season, most on the Nationals.

Roark finished with seven innings and one earned run on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 113 total pitches and made it at least seven innings for the fifth time in 10 starts this season. It was the sixth time he's gone at least six innings with one earned run or less allowed. It's also the fourth time this season he's reached the 110-pitch mark.

Matz tough in first matchup: This was the first time the Nationals had ever faced Matz and the lefty certainly didn't take it easy on them. Matz dazzled with a mid-90s sinker combined with a sharp slider to go eight shutout innings. He was pulled after throwing 104 pitches with seven strikeouts and just four hits and a walk allowed. Michael Taylor, Wilson Ramos, Clint Robinson and Murphy were the only ones to get hits off of him. Matz held Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon to a combined 0-for-9 with three strikeouts. Before giving up the hit to Robinson - who pinch-hit in the eighth - he had retired 16 straight batters. He allowed Robinson's single with two outs and then got Bryce Harper - who also pinch-hit - to ground out and end the frame.

Murphy nears Nats record: Murphy may have committed a costly error, but he also inched closer to setting a Nationals record for most hits in a single month with an infield single in the first inning on Wednesday. That gave him 38 hits in the month, just two away from Denard Span's record of 40 set in August of 2014. The Nats have six more games left in May, plenty of time for Murphy to break it. And if he does, he will have set a Nats hits record in just his second month with the team.

Schu ejected: Nats hitting coach Rick Schu was tossed by home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn in the bottom of the fifth for arguing about the strike zone. It happened after Chris Heisey struck out looking against Matz. Schu was seen on the TV replay in the dugout taunting Reyburn by waving his hand over his head. It was Schu's first ejection as a member of the Nats' coaching staff.

Good attendance: The Nats and Mets drew 38,700 for the series finale on Wednesday. That's a sellout and the second-largest crowd of the season so far at Nationals Park.

Up next: The Nationals turn their attention towards the St. Louis Cardinals, who come to Washington for a four-game series through the weekend. Thursday's series opener will pit Joe Ross (3-4, 2.70) against Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake (3-3, 4.07) with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.