Sometimes a baseball game can come down to one pitch. In the Nats’ 5-3 loss to the Phillies on Saturday, it may be traced back to just two.
Starter Dan Haren was grooving through the Phillies lineup in the top of the second, having struck out four of the first five batters he faced, when back-to-back home runs put the game in Philadelphia’s hands. The Nats would come back to tie it up later on, and then lose it, but a contest decided by two runs in many ways came down to two consecutive pitches.
The first was to Phillies left fielder Dominic Brown. Haren was in control, trusting his stuff after mowing through the first five batters. But Brown is on a hot streak and took the first pitch he saw, a curveball aimed outside, straight into the stands in right-center field.
It was a play that left catcher Kurt Suzuki almost in disbelief, off a pitch they had intended to be out of Brown’s range.
“It was a backdoor curve. I mean it was up, but I thought it was up and off the plate,” he said.
“I don’t know if he was looking for it or what. That’s credit to him, I didn’t think he could do much with that pitch because it was up and away.”
Haren was shocked at the outcome as well, but saw a replay of the pitch later on and realized the mistake he had made.
“Looking back on it, I thought it was a better pitch at the time than it was. It was a little up. It was out over the plate. Curveball, that’s like my fourth best pitch. I throw those more early in the counts. I was surprised he got that good of a swing on it.”
The very next pitch, Haren threw a cutter to catcher Erik Kratz, also a little higher in the zone than he intended. This one found the seats in left field.
“Kratz got me on first pitch too,” he said. “I was trying to be aggressive there like I was going previous, but those balls just got a little too much height.”
The two pitches were clear mistakes made by Haren, if he eliminates those then afterwards he’s talking about his best start of the season. Haren otherwise dominated with ten strikeouts, one walk, and four total hits allowed in six innings. The ten strikeouts were a Nats’ season high and the most for Haren since 2011. On one of baseball’s best staffs, Haren is starting to pull his weight.
Haren said afterwards he can’t make the mistakes he made and expect to go home with a win, but overall he is encouraged by the outing.
“I felt great. Last game against the Padres, my arm just felt heavy. I felt like I was throwing a softball up there, it just didn’t feel good,” he said.
“But today, my body has been bouncing back real good after starts. I’m encouraged with the way I’m feeling stuff-wise. Today was about as good as I’ve had all year, today I just made a couple of mistakes.”
The Nats had at least ten hits for the second night in a row, but mustered only three runs. Eleven hits and three runs for an offense, with their pitcher giving up three runs on just four hits, that’s not going to happen every night. That gives both the pitcher and the catcher some confidence in their approach overall.
“His command was really good,” Suzuki said. “That’s the Dan that I’m used to seeing. I’ve seen him for a number of years now and every time I see him he’s like that.”
“Sometimes you just gotta tip your hat and move on.”
Haren hopes Saturday was just an anomaly and that the same approach will produce a better result next time.
“If I’m throwing like I did tonight, we’ll be good,” he said.