Johnson: "That one hurt"
A night after being bailed out by his center fielder on a miraculous catch to end the game, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano once again made matters interesting in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants.
But this time he wasn’t so lucky, as a pinch-hitting Hector Sanchez launched a towering three run homer to the upper deck in right field, putting the Giants up for good and ruining the Nats’ chances of a sixth consecutive win.
The final blow came in a 3-2 count with two outs, on a pitch Soriano didn’t think he would have to make. The previous pitch, at 2-2, Soriano fired a fastball that was up in the zone, just high enough to earn a ball from home plate umpire Jim Joyce.
Soriano thought it was a strike and couldn’t recover after thinking the game was over.
“I don’t think it be a bad pitch at all. I think it be a strike. But I don’t make that decision,” he said. “I think the game [should have been] over. That pitch, to me, I think it be a strike. I think that was when the game changed.”
Sanchez even thought he was done.
“It was close you know, I thought he got me,” he said.
Soriano’s next delivery was slightly higher, but right where Sanchez was hoping it would be.
“I was looking high and I got that pitch,” he said.
The Nats had nursed a lead since the third inning, only to see it ripped away at the end in the 4-3 loss on Thursday. They struck early with three runs in the third and knocked Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong out of the game after just 3 2/3 innings.
Completing the win, a victory that was in their hands, would have sustained some momentum for the Nationals. They entered the ninth with their sights set on a second straight series sweep with a looming battle in Atlanta up next.
Knowing they were so close made it more difficult to swallow.
“That one hurt,” Davey Johnson said. “That’s this game, you can’t take anything for granted.”
“This one’s pretty tough,” Kurt Suzuki said. “We had them down to one strike, and really just couldn’t put the finishing touch on them.”
The Nats pushed three across in the third, but squandered several other opportunities on offense. They had Suzuki on third in the fourth inning and loaded the bases in the fifth, each time coming away with nothing.
Missing out on a few more runs, in hindsight, became a focal point after the loss.
“It's tough but I think probably the bigger story is we had a lot of runners on base and we didn't push them across,” Ian Desmond said. “We had the starter out after 3 2/3 and we didn't score after that. We've got to do a better job to push more runs across.”
“Today is a tough one,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “It would’ve been nice to keep it going, but things happen.”
The blown chances were covered up nicely by another outstanding start from Dan Haren who now has a 2.30 ERA in seven outings since returning from the disabled list on July 8. He threw six innings of one-run ball with just three hits and two walks, the lone blemish coming on a Brandon Belt solo home run in the sixth.
Haren overcame a 27-pitch first inning that saw the Giants load the bases, giving his team a prime chance for the victory.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff,” he said. “But I made it work.”
With Haren putting in yet another solid start and the Nationals coming as close to another sweep as they did, it was hard for some players to look beyond the positives of their past week.
They swept the Phillies and took two of three against the Giants. Though they couldn’t make it six straight, there is still a sense of momentum as they travel to Atlanta to play the first place Braves.
“It’s tough, with the position we’ve kind of put ourselves in we obviously have to win every game we can to try and get back into it,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “But the last six games we’ve played great.”
“We’ve been playing great baseball, scoring some runs, playing good defense. Pitching’s been great as usual. You can’t really think about it too much, just like good wins. You can only think about them for that night and then forget about them and move on and play tomorrow.”
The Nats have no time to rest and marinate in the defeat, no matter how gut-wrenching it was. The Braves are waiting for them in Atlanta with a sweep of the Nats fresh in their mind. They are 14 ½ games up in the division and can deal another blow to the Nationals’ ever-dwindling playoff hopes.
The Nats now have to turn the page and quickly or the momentum of their last week will really be lost.
“We've done a great job of that all year to this point,” Desmond said. “It's just playing the next game, just coming strong to the field and being ready to play.”
Haren took the no-decision and, because of the end result, shared the despair of his teammates. But as a veteran who’s been in these situations before, he knows it’s important for the Nats to stay focused on the next day.
“It definitely hurts. The mood kind of stinks right now in here,” he said. “But we can’t dwell on it too long because if we go to Atlanta feeling sorry for ourselves then we’re gonna get rolled. Just gotta come out tomorrow and try to put it past us. Hopefully we win tomorrow and go from there.”