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Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

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Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

ATLANTA -- The call that turned Saturday's ballgame upside-down and set the Braves on their way to a 5-4 victory seemed obvious to everyone in a Nationals uniform.

Adam LaRoche's left foot never lost contact with first base -- "I was sure," the veteran said later -- and Martin Prado should have been called out on what looked like a routine groundout to open the bottom of the sixth.

So when Marvin Hudson signaled safe, Davey Johnson didn't know what else to do but bolt out of the Turner Field visitors dugout and let the 48-year-old umpire have it.

"I knew," the 69-year-old manager said. "Even with these old eyes, I knew I was right. I didn't need a replay. And I'm thinking: Here's a young man, right on top of it. Obviously he had to be out of position."

So Johnson asked Hudson to confer with his crew mates, thinking perhaps someone else had a better angle of the play. Only three innings earlier, these same umpires had convened and reversed a call, allowing Ian Desmond to advance to third base on a wild pitch.

Hudson, though, refused to ask for any help. That really set Johnson off, and ultimately led to his first ejection of the season.

Of greater concern to the Nationals: Four pitches later, Edwin Jackson left a fastball over the plate to Jason Heyward, who belted it deep to right-center for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4 and made the blown call sting even worse.

"We don't need to give them a little added momentum here," Johnson said. "Get some help. Obviously he was blocked off or something. That's it, really. I probably overreacted, but it was really a critical point in the ballgame. My pitcher pitched a heck of a ballgame. We had a lead. We don't need to give them any gifts."

Little did Johnson know at the time the Nationals would give the Braves three even bigger gifts two innings later, with the game really on the line. Handed the ball for the bottom of the eighth in a 4-4 game by bench coach Randy Knorr (filling in as manager following the ejection), reliever Ryan Mattheus issued back-to-back walks to load the bases, then grazed No. 8 hitter Andrelton Simmons with an inside fastball. That forced the go-ahead run across the plate and sent the Nationals to their second consecutive, one-run loss to their chief division rivals.

"I didn't even give us a chance to win that game," Mattheus said. "I've got to go out and I've got to throw strikes. If I get beat throwing strikes, it's a little easier to swallow. I can't remember that happening any time in the past, that I can remember. It's inexcusable."

Thus, in the span of 24 hours, the Nationals saw their commanding, 8 12-game lead over the Braves drop to 6 12. There are still only 17 games to play, and it would still require a massive collapse combined with a major resurgence, but the Nats understand they're facing something of a must-win situation Sunday night on national TV to prevent their collars from clenching up a bit too tight for comfort.

"You don't want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you, so it's a big game," LaRoche said. "I think they're all pretty big from here on out. But we've got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost 'em. Come out tomorrow, hopefully take one."

There were reasons beyond the missed call and Mattheus' inability to find the strike zone for this loss. Staked to an early 4-0 lead on LaRoche's 30th homer of the season and two more runs as a direct result of some wretched Atlanta defense, the Nationals watched as Jackson gave back all four runs.

The right-hander, making his first career start in his hometown, surrendered only four hits over 5 13 innings, but all four went for extra bases: Freddie Freeman's triple and Dan Uggla's double in the second inning, Freeman's homer in the fourth inning and then Heyward's crushing homer in the sixth inning.

"Anytime you get a lead like that and you're the starting pitcher, and you come out of the game and that lead isn't there, that's always tough," Jackson said. "My job is to go out there and secure the lead, regardless of the calls being made."

The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, turned stone-cold silent after the early explosion. They managed only five hits after LaRoche's homer in the first, and what few opportunities they had were squandered by their inability to put the ball in play.

One day after striking out a season-high 17 times, the Nationals whiffed 12 more times, with Danny Espinosa earning his second straight Golden Sombrero for a four-strikeout performance.

They did manage to make things interesting in the ninth against oft-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, with Chad Tracy stroking a one-out single to left and pinch-runner Eury Perez swiping second base and advancing to third on a wild throw.

But neither Steve Lombardozzi nor Tyler Moore could put the ball into play, each rookie striking out with the tying run 90 feet away.

Thus the Nationals trudged off the field with another disheartening loss in an eminently winnable game. They had plenty to fret over at night's end, but they also couldn't help but wonder whether the entire storyline might have been different had a botched call not been made. Or, at the very least, had an umpire out of position simply sought help from his mates.

"I thought maybe they'd get together again and get it right," Johnson said. "It wasn't meant to be, and I think it was a big run. That was a big run. But it's like crying over spilled milk. It's over."

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

WASHINGTON - When Gerardo Parra stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, everyone in the ballpark knew something was different with the 32-year-old outfielder.

His walk-up song, “Baby Shark”, drew the immediate attention of everyone in attendance. And it would not be the last thing that Washington Nationals fans remembered from Parra on the day.

“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [two-year-old daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”

After his performance against the Phillies in a 6-2 victory, “Baby Shark” should probably stick around as his walk-up song.

Parra was 0-for-23 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Before then his last hit came on June 1 against Cincinnati. Quickly Parra broke that hitless streak and doubled to plate the go-ahead run for the Nationals. He took a first-pitch slider from Zach Eflin and drove home Matt Adams, giving the Nats a 2-1 advantage.

Later in the game, he followed that up with a home run in the eighth inning as the Nats hit back-to-back jacks. It gave Parra, who started in the outfield for Victor Robles, his first multi-hit game since his June 1 appearance and his fourth such game on the Nationals roster.

But paired with his walk-up song, Parra’s sixth-inning assist to get out Bryce Harper is going to make him a fan favorite.  As Harper tried to go from first-to-third on a Scott Kingery single to shallow center, Parra scooped up the ball bare-handed to throw Harper out at third base. Without it there would have been no outs with runners on the corners and Patrick Corbin nearing the end of his start. Instead, the Nats cruised through the rest of the inning to preserve the lead. The Phillies appealed the play but to no avail.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

“It’s 'Mini-me,'” manager Davey Martinez, who played 16 years in the major leagues primarily as an outfielder, said about Parra after the game. “That’s what I tell him too. He came down [to the dugout after the play] and said, ‘You didn’t do that, you never did that.’ I go, ‘Too bad I ain’t got video of it…’ It was a tough play, barehanded, coming up firing. He’s really good, he’s a good outfielder.”  

With “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song Parra went 2-for-4 with a home run and a game-changing assist in a one-run ballgame. It looks like Parra has found his new walk-up song.

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Max Scherzer was adamant Tuesday he would pitch for the Nats Wednesday night

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Max Scherzer was adamant Tuesday he would pitch for the Nats Wednesday night

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer now owns blue, brown and black eyes.

Scherzer -- who has heterochromia, resulting in one blue and one brown eye -- also now has bruising under his right eye after fouling a practice bunt attempt into his face Tuesday. He left Nationals Park on Tuesday with a splint across his broken nose, a clean CT scan and adamant he would be pitching later Wednesday.

Whether Scherzer pitches the second game of a split day-night doubleheader Wednesday is to be determined. He was still asleep, which is normal for his game-day routine, when manager Davey Martinez spoke to reporters Wednesday morning at 11. So, the last the Nationals knew, the expectation was for Scherzer to be ready for Wednesday night.

“I am convinced right now Scherzer is going to pitch the second game, and we’ll go from there,” Martinez said.

The Nationals have not played baseball since Sunday. Patrick Corbin was supposed to start Monday and Tuesday before those games were snuffed out by rain following lengthy delays. Corbin started the first game on Wednesday.

If Scherzer cannot pitch the second, Erick Fedde or Austin Voth will. Voth was brought in from Triple-A Fresno on Tuesday to be the 26th man on the roster for the doubleheader. He had a laborious trip to get to the District: Voth left Fresno on a 6 a.m. flight with a connection in Salt Lake City. He missed it because his first flight was delayed by weather and mechanical problems. He was rerouted to Detroit -- which took him out of first class and put him into a middle seat in coach -- then eventually landed in Washington. His baseball bag made the whole journey. His personal bag did not.

The Nationals hope they don’t have to use Voth as a starter. He could fill three roles: relief in the first game, starter in the second or relief in the second. He is likely to pitch somehow Wednesday in order to protect the other bullpen members during a stretch of six games in five days (should Mother Nature finally relent).

So, the Nationals are waiting on a call from Scherzer to map everything out. He’s expected to ring the team’s head trainer, Paul Lessard when he arises. The team is concerned about possible breathing complications for Scherzer both prior to and while pitching after Scherzer left the stadium with a splint across his damaged nose on Wednesday. Martinez was not sure if his $210 million right-hander would wear the splint if he pitches in a game.

What the Nationals do know is they have run into another odd situation during a strange year. A bad start, a manager on the hot seat, a recent rally toward relevancy, then back-to-back rainouts against a key opponent with an ace’s broken nose mixed in. Several players wore black “Stay in the fight” T-shirts which were draped across their clubhouse chairs when they walked in Wednesday morning. That slogan applied to Scherzer’s mentality on Tuesday night.

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