Do you really want to rehash tonight’s 9-7 loss to the Giants, the latest in a long line of soul-crushing losses the Nationals have experienced this season? Are you that much a glutton for punishment? Do you just have a morbid curiosity to analyze another train wreck of a ballgame?
OK, if you insist…
So the Nationals were down 5-1 in the seventh inning of this one, yet stormed back to take the lead on two big hits from Nick Johnson (a three-run homer in the seventh and a two-run single in the eighth). That gave them a 7-5 lead going into the bottom of the eighth.
No problems, right? Clearly, you haven’t been paying attention to this team this year.
Tonight’s contestants in “Who Wants to Blow a Late Nats Lead?” were Kip Wells and Joe Beimel. Wells came on for the eighth protecting that two-run lead and within seconds turned it into a one-run lead. Bengie Molina crushed an 0-1 pitch for a solo homer, so it was 7-6.
Let’s move onto the ninth, when Beimel was handed the ball. The lefty looked just fine in retiring the first two men he faced with ease. But then Emmanuel Burriss singled. And then Beimel threw away a pickoff attempt, allowing Burriss to take second. And then he walked Edgar Renteria on five pitches.
All of a sudden, Joel Hanrahan and bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo sprinted out of the Nats’ dugout and ran to the visitors bullpen down the right-field line here at AT&T Park. Any thought that Hanrahan might be a better option than Beimel, though, was quickly vanquished by anyone who saw his first three warmup throws. All three bounced in front of Robledo, the first one rolling all the way to the backstop behind home plate and forcing umpire Tim Timmons to call time out.
So it was Beimel, sink or swim. Pablo Sandoval ran the count to 2-2. Beimel tried to throw a sinker down and away. Instead it hung over the heart of the plate, at 84 mph. Do I really need to tell you what happened next? Ballgame.
Afterward, in a deathly quiet clubhouse, Manny Acta answered questions about yet another bullpen meltdown.
“We have tried everybody and their cousins, and we still can’t get anybody to put a zero up in the eighth and the ninth innings,” he said. “And that’s really just killing us.”
For those keeping score at home, that’s six games now the Nats have lost when leading or tied entering the ninth. That’s seven games they’ve lost when scoring six or more runs (including each of the last three days). And that’s 10 blown saves in 15 chances for what can only be described as one of the worst major-league bullpens ever assembled.
So what now?
“Probably back to square one,” Acta said. “Nobody has shown us that they want to grab the bull by the horn and take charge of the eighth and ninth innings. So we’re just going to continue putting them out there and probably give Joe another chance and see what happens.”
I’m not sure that’s going to be a comforting thought to Nats fans.