A scrappy game was played between two scrappy teams at Nats Ball Park on Sunday afternoon with the Padres proving to be the scrappiest of the bunch on the weekend, taking the rubber match 5-4 and the weekend series two games to one.
The Nats and the Padres are two teams that cannot hit. That became painfully apparent in the first two games of the series this weekend, with teams trading 2-1 wins on Friday and Saturday. Sunday degenerated in to a “get it done any way humanely possible” type of affair featuring bunts, sacrifices and small ball tactics to make any baseball statistician cringe.
The epitome came in the top of the ninth. Jorge Cantu pinch hit for the Padres’ pitcher slot and scraped a double down the right field line. He was brought home two batters later by an single from Ryan Ludwick that barely made it out of the infield, off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond who whirled a throw to home that was a second too late.
“He made a great effort,” manager Jim Riggleman said of Desmond. “He was trying to keep it from going to the outfield to give us a chance. It just trickled away. Is that unlucky? We had a chance to have good luck and we didn’t take advantage of it when we couldn’t get some runs in.”
Washington left 18 runners on base on Sunday. That number is significant for two reasons: A) They actually had runners on base, not a common occurrence in Nats Town these days and B) they could not get a runner in from scoring position to save their lives.
This is where all the small ball comes in. Get a runner on, try to bunt him over. Hit a sacrifice to get a runner from second to third. Hit-and-run to move the defenders and try to find some holes. The approach worked in the first inning when the Nats took a 2-0 lead after Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond reached base and Jayson Werth punched a hit-and-run ball through second to score Bernadina. Yet, it may have backfired in the sixth when the Nats had runners on first and second and Riggleman called for the sac-bunt from catcher Wilson Ramos. The bunt gave up an out and took the bat out of Ramos’s hands. Considering he is one of the Nats better contact hitters, one wonders if Riggleman was playing the game too strictly to an outdated playbook.
“We pretty much play the game the same way every time. If the game calls for running, we run,” Riggleman said. “If it calls for bunting, we bunt. If it says don’t bunt, we don’t bunt. With the game situations, there was no thought process of doing anything different.”
Yunesky Maya got his first start of the season for the Nats and cruised through the first three innings. His four-seam fastball topped out around 90 miles per hour but his fastball and changeup featured great movement, especially away to left-handed hitters. Maya got in trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, slowed the game down and ultimately surrendered four runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
“He was really good for a few innings and then he got in trouble and he was trying to pitch out of it, made some good pitches and they fouled a bunch of balls off,” Riggleman said.
Drew Storen took the loss for the Nats, surrendering the go-ahead run on Cantu’s double followed by the Ludwick single. After 21 straight scoreless appearances, Storen has given up runs in three straight games.
“It happens to all closers, I think,” Riggleman said. “I thought he made a good pitch on Ludwick and it is a groundball. Once the ball is hit on the ground, there is no directing it. Is it going to be at the second baseman, at the shortstop, is it going to be up the middle? That one went up the middle. If that ball had gone a couple feet the other way towards [Desmond] and he throws him out at first, we are talking about a good clean inning for Storen.”
Alas, that is not what happened and the Nats once again find themselves losers of a game, and a weekend series.