Quick Links

Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

882987.png

Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

ATLANTA -- The call that turned Saturday's ballgame upside-down and set the Braves on their way to a 5-4 victory seemed obvious to everyone in a Nationals uniform.

Adam LaRoche's left foot never lost contact with first base -- "I was sure," the veteran said later -- and Martin Prado should have been called out on what looked like a routine groundout to open the bottom of the sixth.

So when Marvin Hudson signaled safe, Davey Johnson didn't know what else to do but bolt out of the Turner Field visitors dugout and let the 48-year-old umpire have it.

"I knew," the 69-year-old manager said. "Even with these old eyes, I knew I was right. I didn't need a replay. And I'm thinking: Here's a young man, right on top of it. Obviously he had to be out of position."

So Johnson asked Hudson to confer with his crew mates, thinking perhaps someone else had a better angle of the play. Only three innings earlier, these same umpires had convened and reversed a call, allowing Ian Desmond to advance to third base on a wild pitch.

Hudson, though, refused to ask for any help. That really set Johnson off, and ultimately led to his first ejection of the season.

Of greater concern to the Nationals: Four pitches later, Edwin Jackson left a fastball over the plate to Jason Heyward, who belted it deep to right-center for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4 and made the blown call sting even worse.

"We don't need to give them a little added momentum here," Johnson said. "Get some help. Obviously he was blocked off or something. That's it, really. I probably overreacted, but it was really a critical point in the ballgame. My pitcher pitched a heck of a ballgame. We had a lead. We don't need to give them any gifts."

Little did Johnson know at the time the Nationals would give the Braves three even bigger gifts two innings later, with the game really on the line. Handed the ball for the bottom of the eighth in a 4-4 game by bench coach Randy Knorr (filling in as manager following the ejection), reliever Ryan Mattheus issued back-to-back walks to load the bases, then grazed No. 8 hitter Andrelton Simmons with an inside fastball. That forced the go-ahead run across the plate and sent the Nationals to their second consecutive, one-run loss to their chief division rivals.

"I didn't even give us a chance to win that game," Mattheus said. "I've got to go out and I've got to throw strikes. If I get beat throwing strikes, it's a little easier to swallow. I can't remember that happening any time in the past, that I can remember. It's inexcusable."

Thus, in the span of 24 hours, the Nationals saw their commanding, 8 12-game lead over the Braves drop to 6 12. There are still only 17 games to play, and it would still require a massive collapse combined with a major resurgence, but the Nats understand they're facing something of a must-win situation Sunday night on national TV to prevent their collars from clenching up a bit too tight for comfort.

"You don't want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you, so it's a big game," LaRoche said. "I think they're all pretty big from here on out. But we've got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost 'em. Come out tomorrow, hopefully take one."

There were reasons beyond the missed call and Mattheus' inability to find the strike zone for this loss. Staked to an early 4-0 lead on LaRoche's 30th homer of the season and two more runs as a direct result of some wretched Atlanta defense, the Nationals watched as Jackson gave back all four runs.

The right-hander, making his first career start in his hometown, surrendered only four hits over 5 13 innings, but all four went for extra bases: Freddie Freeman's triple and Dan Uggla's double in the second inning, Freeman's homer in the fourth inning and then Heyward's crushing homer in the sixth inning.

"Anytime you get a lead like that and you're the starting pitcher, and you come out of the game and that lead isn't there, that's always tough," Jackson said. "My job is to go out there and secure the lead, regardless of the calls being made."

The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, turned stone-cold silent after the early explosion. They managed only five hits after LaRoche's homer in the first, and what few opportunities they had were squandered by their inability to put the ball in play.

One day after striking out a season-high 17 times, the Nationals whiffed 12 more times, with Danny Espinosa earning his second straight Golden Sombrero for a four-strikeout performance.

They did manage to make things interesting in the ninth against oft-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, with Chad Tracy stroking a one-out single to left and pinch-runner Eury Perez swiping second base and advancing to third on a wild throw.

But neither Steve Lombardozzi nor Tyler Moore could put the ball into play, each rookie striking out with the tying run 90 feet away.

Thus the Nationals trudged off the field with another disheartening loss in an eminently winnable game. They had plenty to fret over at night's end, but they also couldn't help but wonder whether the entire storyline might have been different had a botched call not been made. Or, at the very least, had an umpire out of position simply sought help from his mates.

"I thought maybe they'd get together again and get it right," Johnson said. "It wasn't meant to be, and I think it was a big run. That was a big run. But it's like crying over spilled milk. It's over."

Quick Links

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

Quick Links

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound