Coming off a series opening loss to the New York Mets, the Nats entered Saturday’s game hoping for the consistent Dan Haren they’ve come to know over the last two months. Perhaps the resurgent veteran could be their stopper.
Instead Haren imploded early for the second consecutive outing and left his team with what proved an insurmountable deficit. He gave up seven earned before getting the hook in the third inning, and has now allowed more runs (11) in his last two starts than he did in his eight previous games combined.
Haren’s seven runs came on nine hits, eight of them singles. It was that fact he and Davey Johnson pointed to after the 11-3 loss. The Mets didn’t do major damage with any lone swing, their hits just kept falling.
“Just wasn’t my night really,” Haren said. “It seemed like everything they put in play was a hit. Literally, almost everything they put in play was a hit. Can’t go out there striking out everybody. That’s baseball. I’ve had a good stretch. Maybe I’ve had a little bit of luck. Today was just one of those days.”
“It was just one of those days with 1000 little singles,” Johnson said. “He must have given up seven in a row or something. That’s baseball. Strange things can happen.”
Ian Desmond was more frank in his assessment.
"To be honest. They won, we lost," he said. "They beat us in every aspect of the game."
"I’m not taking anything away from the way Dan pitched, because he made good pitches. But that’s part of hitting: being able to be in position long enough and good enough to be able to produce a hit like that."
However the Mets did it, their blowout of the Nats came at an unfortunate time for the home team. Washington has now lost two straight and enters September down 7 ½ games to the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card race. The Reds took care of the Rockies 8-3 on Saturday night after losing four of their previous five.
“Obviously we know that we're running out of time,” Denard Span said. “Tonight, just a terrible game. A type of loss like this came at the wrong time.”
Johnson yanked Haren after just 2 2/3 innings to bring in Tanner Roark, but the rookie couldn’t stop the bleeding. He let in a run of his own by walking pitcher Zack Wheeler with the bases loaded. He walked three total and also surrendered three hits.
Wheeler did his part for the Mets, perhaps with the aid of a large lead. The former sixth overall pick held the Nats scoreless through 5 1/3 innings before Jayson Werth hit a sacrifice fly to left field. Desmond then singled home the Nats’ second run moments later. Span added the third run in the eighth inning on an infield groundball.
Desmond thinks giving Wheeler the lead made him more effective as the game went on.
"He was throwing firm with an eight-run lead. You give a young guy, who in a tight game may have to deal with some nerves, you give him an eight-run lead and that kind of goes out the window."
The Mets finished with 17 total hits on the night, with six different batters recording multi-hit games. The top of New York’s lineup - Eric Young, Jr., Daniel Murphy and Josh Satin - all notched three apiece.
After Haren and Roark combined to give up eight, the Mets padded their lead with Ryan Mattheus on the mound in the eighth inning. He gave up three more runs on a walk and four hits. Mattheus now sports a 7.27 ERA through 26 games this season.
The Nats entered this weekend series having won 14 of their previous 19 games. Now they’ve lost two straight. Whether the momentum built over their otherwise successful August has been completely lost will be shown over the next few days. They still have a game left against the Mets on Sunday night and 14 of their next 17 against teams with sub-.500 records.
This one surely stings for the Nats, but now they can literally turn the page. Sunday is the first day of September and 27 games remain.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares, dropping a series to the Mets,” Johnson said. “But we just need to turn it around, starting tomorrow.”
The Nats stand 7 1/2 games back of the final wild card spot on September 1. On the same date in 2011 the St. Louis Cardinals were 8 1/2 games back of the Atlanta Braves and rallied to make the playoffs. As the saying goes, stranger things have happened.