The Nationals’ 3-2 loss in Chicago on Tuesday had a little bit of everything. A gutty pitching performance by Jordan Zimmermann. Another jaw-dropping home run by Bryce Harper. And some inexplicable mental mistakes by Yunel Escobar and (to a lesser extent) Ian Desmond during the decisive ninth inning.
All of that made for one of the more entertaining games of the young season, even if the end result wasn’t quite what the Nats had in mind.
Let’s run through some of the most significant events of the evening…
JORDAN ZIMMERMANN BATTLED HIS WAY THROUGH SEVEN STRONG INNINGS
If you watched his entire outing, you’d probably agree Zimmermann did not have his best stuff on this night. He walked three batters. He put nine total men on base. He needed 113 pitches just to complete seven innings.
And yet, when it was all said and done, he allowed only one run.
How did Zimmermann do that? By making big pitches when he needed them, by making adjustments along the way, by recognizing what was working and what wasn’t working.
This is what they mean when they talk about battling your way through a start. And Zimmermann did it to near-perfection. There are others in the Nationals rotation (cough, Stephen Strasburg, cough) who could learn a thing or two from that performance.
Really, Zimmermann hasn’t had his best stuff throughout April and May. And yet when you look at his overall numbers — 4-2, 3.26 ERA, nine quality starts in 10 total outings — he appears to be having another really impressive season. And when you throw out his disastrous start at Fenway Park way back on April 13, you realize he’s been even better (4-1, 2.31 ERA).
EVEN BRYCE HARPER COULDN’T BELIEVE HIS LATEST HOMER
All you needed to watch of Harper’s seventh-inning at-bat was his reaction to his swing on a 3-1 pitch from Kyle Hendricks. After thinking he had popped up to left field, Harper slammed his bat to the ground and began jogging toward first base, not even bothering to watch the flight of the ball.
At some point, he (and everyone else) realized what happened: Harper, with some help from the Wrigley Field wind and short fence in left-center, hit his league-leading 17th homer of the season. As he crossed the plate and got a high-five from Ryan Zimmerman, all he could say to his teammate was: “Wow.”
Harper has wowed us plenty of times over the last three weeks with his various displays of power. This one might have topped them all for the sheer ludicrousness of it all.
Oh, if you’ve lost track, here are Harper’s updated offensive numbers over this 18-game stretch: a .467 batting average, 12 homers, 27 RBI, 14 walks, .568 on-base percentage, 1.167 slugging percentage and 1.734 OPS. He’s also back on pace for 60 homers, 148 RBI and 141 walks over the full season.
YUNEL ESCOBAR COMMITTED AN ALL-TIME TOOTBLAN
For those who remain among the uninitiated, TOOTBLAN stands for: Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. It’s a perfect description of terrible baserunning plays, and Escobar’s play in the top of the ninth Tuesday night was as terrible as they get.
With two out and a 3-2 count on Wilson Ramos in a tie game, Escobar inexplicably took off from second base before Cubs closer Hector Rondon had begun his delivery to the plate. Rondon calmly stepped off the rubber and threw to third, nailing Escobar by 10 feet and ending the inning in stunning fashion.
When something like that happens, you try to figure out what a player must have been thinking, what motivation he must have had to attempt such a bold maneuver. Except there was no logical explanation for it.
Escobar wasn’t quoted by reporters after the game. But really, what could he say that would satisfy anybody?
There quite simply was no reason to attempt to take third base at that moment. Even if Escobar made it, he would benefit only if Rondon then threw a wild pitch or possibly if Ramos hit a sharp single to the outfield that might’ve set up a play at the plate had Escobar still been on second base.
We’ll never know what might’ve happened had he just stayed put. But we do know what happened when he tried to advance for no valid reason.
IAN DESMOND’S ERROR HELPED SET UP THE CUBS’ GAME-WINNER
The Nationals nearly turned a huge 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the ninth, but Desmond’s throw sailed wide of first base and slipped past the railing and into the visitors’ dugout. Instead of being out at first base, Jonathan Herrera was now safe at second base, representing the winning run.
And wouldn’t you know what happened next. Addison Russell drove a flyball to deep right-center. Denard Span, who had to play in more than he would’ve had Herrera been on first base instead of second, couldn’t quite get there in time to make the catch, and Herrera scampered home with the game-winning run.
It was Desmond’s 13th error of the season. And like several that came before, it was costly. But this wasn’t as bad as some others.
This was an error of effort, with Desmond trying to turn a difficult double play. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest decision, but it wasn’t an egregious gaffe on his part. There was legitimate explanation for it, as opposed to Escobar’s baserunning mistake moments earlier.
That doesn’t make the error, or the final result of this game, any easier for the Nationals to swallow.