Holding a one-run lead on Baltimore in the eighth inning on Friday night, the ideal situation for Matt Williams' bullpen was presented. Casey Janssen came out to set up a save opportunity for Drew Storen with the Nats holding a 39-2 record this season when leading after seven innings. The Orioles, on the other hand, were an ugly 0-36 when leading after seven.
Advantage Washington, right?
But this is baseball and, naturally, nothing went as planned. Janssen allowed a softly-hit single to leadoff against a pinch-hitting Chris Parmelee. He then got Adam Jones out on a hard liner to third base.
Though Janssen wasn't in serious trouble, Williams called on lefty Matt Thornton to face Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Wieters stepped to the plate 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Thornton in his career. So, of course, he doubled to right-center field to tie the game at 2-2.
Wieters was aggressive and hit the first pitch from Thornton, something the Nats' veteran did not foresee.
"[Jose Lobaton] asked me on the mound what I wanted to do there. I said 'let's start him down and away and then we'll go from there, go back in.' He jumped the first pitch and that was it. I didn't expect him to do that," Thornton explained.
Thornton got out of the inning quickly thereafter, but the Nats were no match for All-Star reliever Zach Britton in the top of the ninth. That set up a walk-off opportunity for the Orioles against right-hander Tanner Roark, and they made it count.
Roark came out firing mid-90s fastballs and struck out the first two batters he faced. He was nothing short of dominant and even got the final batter, Jonathan Schoop, to two strikes.
But then Roark left a slider just a little too high in the zone and Schoop sent it over the fence in left field. He reached and barely got a bat on it, but it was just enough on a hot summer night in a small stadium.
"The pitch that went out of the ballpark was not a bad pitch," Williams said. "He just got out and hooked it. It's a small ballpark and he just got it over. That's the way this park plays sometimes."
"He was doing great. I even think the pitch that he hit out was a good pitch, a good located pitch," Tyler Moore said. "He just one-handed it. In this stadium the ball travels pretty good. It's unfortunate."
Roark also felt the slider was a well-executed pitch, but he wouldn't point to the conditions or the dimensions at Camden Yards as an excuse.
"It is what it is," he said. "There's a lot of parks where the ball flies. You still gotta pitch the same and be confident in yourself."
The Nats' bullpen did produce one big positive in Aaron Barrett's successful return from a right bicep strain. Barrett replaced starter Gio Gonzalez in the seventh inning, allowed no runs and struck out two. It was his first appearance since June 11 and he came away encouraged.
"I'm glad skip had the confidence to put me in that situation, to get back to help the team out in whatever role is available. I felt good coming back," he said. "I haven't felt any of the pain or the soreness that I was getting or that I was feeling in the past. It is just about continuing to build the arm strength and continuing to keep working."