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Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers


Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers

There's apparently something about the September sun at Nationals Park, the way it hovers just above the third base stands in late afternoon and aligns itself perfectly with routine flyballs hit to center and right fields.

"Once 4:05 comes around, you've got the shadows at the plate," Bryce Harper said. "You've got the left field stands, with the red seats or whatever. And then you've got the sun monster behind. It's just something that happens, and you've just got to play with it and hopefully it doesn't happen any more."

"It" is the stomach-churning feeling outfielders get when they realize they can't see a routine flyball fast approaching them from underneath that bright sun. "It" was a feeling both Harper and Jayson Werth experienced Sunday afternoon, each at critical moments during what would become a 6-2 loss to the Brewers.

Harper completely lost sight of Ryan Braun's fourth-inning flyball to center, letting it fall to the ground for a gift double. Braun wound up scoring Milwaukee's first run of the game.

"You can't catch what you can't see, you know?" Harper said with a shrug. "Nothing you can do about it."

Three innings later, Werth suffered the exact same fate, losing Carlos Gomez's flyball to right with the bases loaded and helping turn a 2-2 game into a comfortable lead for the Brewers.

"You guys saw the game," Werth said, walking past reporters without answering questions.

It would be one thing if these freak plays could be chalked up to one bad afternoon with a bad sky. But the exact same thing happened to Harper 14 days earlier, and there's legitimate reason to wonder if it might happen again.

The Nationals have four more home games this season, and two of them (tomorrow's series finale against the Brewers and the Oct. 3 season finale against the Phillies) are afternoon games.

Worse, there's a decent chance the Nationals will be scheduled to play one or more afternoon playoff games next month, creating the possibility of a similar play wreaking havoc at a most inopportune moment.

Which begs what may sound like a silly question but may actually have merit: Is there anything at all the Nationals can do to try to prevent this from happening again? (Aside, of course, from engineering a 2-square mile sun blocker and installing it on South Capitol Street in the next two weeks.)

"Well, we may come out early and try to shag some flyballs," manager Davey Johnson said. "Maybe when we have a night game or something. Seems to be around 2-3 o'clock when they're having trouble. Outfield coordinator Bo Porter was starting to play them around so they'd get a little better angle on the sun. And then they started hitting the ball where we weren't playing. Strategy, nothing worked today."

To be sure, there were other reasons the Nationals lost this game. Their lineup squandered multiple opportunities to bring home runners in scoring position. Their pitching staff surrendered 15 hits and issued four walks, giving the Brewers plenty of opportunities to score (which they did).

Really, though, the tone for the entire afternoon was established several days ago when Johnson named Chien-Ming Wang his starter. After Tuesday's rainout forced Wednesday's doubleheader, the Nationals had no choice but to use a spot starter for this game. And of the available options -- Wang, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke -- Johnson felt Wang was his best.

The veteran right-hander hadn't started a big-league game since June 19 and he hadn't started any game since Sept. 1 for Class AAA Syracuse, so the Nationals knew entering this one the odds of a long start were slim.

Wang actually pitched better than expected, keeping the ball in the strike zone and forcing the Brewers into hitting mostly groundballs. But a 30-pitch fourth inning -- aided in part by Harper's lost flyball -- left him with 69 pitches overall and left Johnson to turn to his bullpen early.

"As a player, I definitely want to keep pitching today," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "But I know I only have three days off since his last relief appearance and probably they consider for that reason, so they took me out."

Five different Nationals each pitched one inning of relief, none of them retiring the side. Ryan Mattheus took the brunt of the abuse, allowing three runs on four hits in the seventh, though again that inning was prolonged by Werth's misplay.

"I thought we played well," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Balls we had chances on, we made plays. What are you going to do? Tip your cap to the sun."

All of it added up to a loss, the Nationals' sixth in their last nine games. The Braves' 2-1 victory in Philadelphia allowed them to close the gap in the NL East to 4 12 games and leave the Nationals' magic number to clinch the division at 6.

They'll be back on the field tomorrow for another 1:05 p.m. matinee against Milwaukee.

The forecast: 69 degrees and abundant sunshine.

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Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, Brian Goodwin homered twice and the Washington Nationals got a solid performance from their bullpen in a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.

Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy also homered for the Nationals, who trailed 5-2 in the sixth before coming back to deal the Reds their 12th loss in 13 games.

Trea Turner singled off Raisel Iglesias (2-2) with one out in the 10th and took third on a single by Goodwin before Harper hit a liner that struck the right-field wall on one bounce.

Matt Albers (3-1) pitched the 10th to cap an impressive night for the Nationals' bullpen, a maligned group that blanked the Reds on one hit over the final five innings.

Goodwin homered in the first inning and again in the seventh, the first multihomer game of the rookie's career.

Scooter Gennett connected for the skidding Reds.

Seeking his ninth win, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings, walking two and striking out five. It was only the third time in 15 starts the right-hander allowed more than three earned runs, but it was also the third straight start in which he failed to go six innings.

Reds starter Luis Castillo pitched five effective innings in his major league debut and left with a 5-2 lead, but the Cincinnati bullpen deprived him of the victory. Castillo allowed two runs and five hits, walking five and striking out five.

The 24-year-old rookie was replaced by Michael Lorenzen, who promptly served up a home run to Murphy and gave up a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew later in the sixth.

Wandy Peralta took over in the seventh and, like Lorenzen, gave up a homer to the first batter he faced. Goodwin's drive to right made it 5-all.

Early on, Cincinnati dominated.

The Reds batted around in a four-run first inning that featured Gennett's 10th home run, a run-scoring fly ball by Scott Schebler and successive RBI singles from Devin Mesorasco and Jose Peraza.

Goodwin homered in the bottom half, but Mesoraco singled in a run in the third. The two-out bloop landed in front of Wilmer Difo, who was playing center field for the first time in the majors and pulled up as the ball dropped at his feet.

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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

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The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.