There was a point late in Friday night’s game on South Capitol Street when the Nationals and a crowd of 33,718 felt like a comeback was possible, maybe even likely.
Shoot, that’s all anyone around here had known for the previous week-and-a-half, when the hottest team in the majors kept finding ways to win ballgames, no matter the obstacles. Given all that, there was plenty of reason to think a 10-game winning streak would become an 11-game winning streak by night’s end.
“Yeah, when the score was 4-2, I think everybody believed we still have a chance to win this game,” center fielder Denard Span said. “When it got to 10-2, we were like: ‘OK, time to turn the page and get ready to try to start another streak.'”
All good things must come to an end sometime, and so it was that the Great Winning Streak of August 2014 came to a sudden and disappointing end Friday night in the form of a 10-3 shellacking at the hands of the Giants. The final score wasn’t entirely indicative of the game as a whole, which was tight until the Nationals’ bullpen gave up six runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but it was nonetheless a bit of a shock to a ballclub that had been unable to do any wrong for quite some time.
“One of those days,” manager Matt Williams said. “Kind of a clunker all around.”
For this one night, the Nationals bore little resemblance to the team that had just matched the franchise record for consecutive wins. The lineup was held firmly in check by longtime nemesis Tim Hudson. The defense was sloppy. A baserunning blunder killed potential momentum. The bullpen blew up late. And the club’s most-reliable starter turned in one of his worst performances of the season.
It’s a sign of just how great Doug Fister has been that a 6-inning, 4-run outing would be considered poor, but this was out of character for the right-hander, who served up a pair of home runs on sinkers that were left up in the zone.
“The whole day, I was battling myself,” he said. “That’s a constant challenge for me, to constantly keep the ball down and on the corners. It’s something I have to do. If not, I have to pay for it. And that’s what happened.”
Fister pitched with a row of stitches down the left side of his neck, clear for anybody watching on TV to see, and he revealed afterward he had “some skin cancer removed a couple days ago.” The 30-year-old offered no more detail than that, other than to say he’s fine and that the procedure “had no effect” on his performance in this game.
Teammates had nothing but praise for Fister, who over his previous 10 starts was 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA, developing into the ace of a star-studded rotation.
“You haven’t seen that happen all year, give up two home runs,” Span said. “I think the last time was maybe St. Louis (on June 15). I mean, it’s going to happen. That’s a good lineup over there. He still pitched good, in my opinion. He gave us a chance to win.”
The Nationals had been giving themselves chances to win for 10 days, and for 10 days they found a way to make the most of those opportunities. When it finally didn’t happen Friday, they weren’t exactly sure how to react. They barely remembered the last time they made the slow trudge down the dugout tunnel and back to a quiet clubhouse.
“We haven’t had that feeling in a while, fortunately,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Tough loss, no question, just the way we got beat. Other than that, looking back, it was an awesome stretch. That’s what guys were talking about after the game: Just start up a new one.”
That was the prevailing sentiment throughout the clubhouse afterward. All those wins left them hungry for even more.
“Those don’t come around very often,” Williams said. “It’s pretty rare to see 10 in a row. But we’ve got to get back to work tomorrow and see if we can start another one.”