At least on Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals had the decency to make it interesting. Before losing 7-5 to the Florida Marlins and dropping further into the basement of the National League East, Washington managed to piece together four hits and a walk to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth. The last of those hits — a two-run single by Michael Morse — scored two runs and brought Laynce Nix, who had already hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth to make the score 3-1 Florida at the time. Nix came within a foot of tying the game, lifting a Leo Nunez change-up very high in the air and very far into left field. But the ball had been hit a little too close to the end of Nix’s bat, the ball settled into Mike Stanton’s glove instead of in the Nationals bullpen, and Washington had officially lost eight of their last eleven games dating back to the All-Star Break.
However tempting, Nationals fans shouldn’t use the desperate rally in the ninth inning to let the team off the hook for what was, for the most part, another disappointing performance, particularly from the offense. Time after time, the Nationals allowed Javier Vazquez, he of the 5.35 ERA and the 73 ERA+ entering the evening to squirm out of trouble. In the first inning, the Nationals had men on first and third with two out. Nix bounced to shortstop for a force out. In the second inning, Washington had men on first and second with none out. Jesus Flores struck out swinging, and after Livan Hernandez sacrificed to advance the runners to second and third, Jerry Hairston popped out to first baseman Greg Dobbs. With the exception of Nix’s home run, the Nationals didn’t get a runner past second base again until the seventh. With Washington trailing 4-1, pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina walked to lead off the inning, and Hairston reached when Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez kicked around a perfect double-play ball. Then Alex Cora came to the plate, and this time the Nats were not so lucky. He grounded into a perfectly turned 5-4-3 double play with Bernadina advancing to third, and the tease was complete when Ryan Zimmerman lifted a fly ball into deep right field that was grabbed by a leaping Mike Stanton. The more cosmically-minded of the Nationals fan base would suggest that Davey Johnson got exactly what he deserved for batting Cora (.286 on-base percentage in 134 plate appearances) second in the lineup in the first place.
Jayson Werth (Agonistes) never got off the bench Wednesday, which was perfectly fine. The night’s events served to frustrate the 21,974 enough. In addition to the offensive dearth, there were other moments to make Nationals fans shake their head and sigh. There was, for example, the moment in the second inning when Hernandez made Stanton look foolish swinging and missing a 65 mile-per-hour curveball to bring the count to 1-2. The next pitch was an 86 mile-per-hour sinker that did not sink and which Stanton slammed into the right-center field bleachers to make the score 1-0 Florida. There was also Hernandez, appearing to pitch out of a bases-loaded one-out situation in the fourth when he got Mike Cameron looking at another curveball, this time on a 3-2 count. The next batter, John Buck, pulled a hanging slider into left field for a two-run single to make the score 3-0. Then there was Cameron, only recently salvaged from Boston’s scrap heap, hitting two home runs, the second a two-run shot to left field that made the score 7-1 and turned out to provide the winning margin.
This is life for the Washington Nationals at the start of the second half of the season, where everything, it seems, has to go right and where nothing actually is.