The Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Rockies last night was disappointingfrustratingmaddeningpick another adjective for a number of reasons, but let's focus on the two most significant ones...
1. Stephen Strasburg came undone during what proved to be the decisive bottom of the sixth inning.
How often does Strasburg take the mound with a lead in hand, give it back and wind up taking the loss? Well, in 31 career starts prior to last night, he had never done it.
But in that fateful bottom of the sixth at Coors Field, Strasburg (who one inning earlier had staked himself to a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI double) imploded in a manner we had never seen before.
It began with a Dexter Fowler leadoff triple down the right-field line, then turned scary when Strasburg drilled Marco Scutaro in the head with a 95 mph fastball. Clearly upset by what he had just done, Strasburg pulled his cap off, winced and looked right at Scutaro, wanting to make sure the veteran infielder was OK.
It's never easy for any pitcher to rebound from a moment like that, and Strasburg was no exception, though he didn't get any help from plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Strasburg's subsequent 2-2 pitch to the fearsome Carlos Gonzalez (a 96 mph fastball on the lower, inside corner of the strike zone) was called a ball. Strasburg appeared to have a few words for Hernandez, and MLB's Pitch FX system confirmed it should have been strike three.
But bad call or not, Strasburg needed to shake that one off and make a good 3-2 pitch to retire Gonzalez. Instead, he left a curveball over enough of the plate for Gonzalez to lace the game-tying single to right. A Michael Cuddyer base hit continued the inning, and Todd Helton's sacrifice fly brought home the go-ahead run.
That proved to be the difference in the game, and proved to be a rare occasion in which Strasburg had trouble handling an adverse situation.
2. A struggling Nationals lineup failed once again to take advantage of a struggling pitcher.
The Nats may not find themselves in a more advantageous matchup entering a game all season, with Strasburg in their corner and soft-tossing Jeff Francis and his 8.56 ERA in the other. That didn't exactly play out as expected, did it?
Francis allowed just two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out five while most notably issuing zero walks. Only four of the 21 batters the left-hander faced got ahead in the count. None worked his way into a three-ball count.
Davey Johnson was not pleased at all.
"We've faced some pitchers everybody jumps on, and they look like Sandy Koufax over there," the manager told reporters following the game.
How bad was the Nationals' offensive attack? Strasburg and No. 8 hitter Jesus Flores combined to go 4-for-5. Everybody else went 4-for-28.