CINCINNATI — The symbolism dripped thick with irony: the Nationals had two men on for what seemed like the umpteenth time in the last four games, their cleanup hitter at the plate in a duel with the other team’s starting pitcher. And then, the lights went out.
As Michael Morse stood in for the 2-2 pitch from Cincinnati Reds starter Dontrelle Willis, his team clinging to a one-run lead, he looked out at Ian Desmond and Brian Bixler on the basepaths. He recovered from sending his bat flying into the stands on the 2-1 pitch and was poised to continue the at-bat when a bank of lights above the first base side at Great American Ball Park simply went off.
Morse thrust his hands in the air. A meeting was held with the umpires and a brief delay was concluded when they decided they’d play out at least the full inning that way so as to be fair to both sides. Then Morse struck out.
As the Nationals ugly numbers with runners in scoring position continue to pile up, they left just enough men on the bases Friday night to keep Cincinnati within striking distance. That became their fourth straight loss when Miguel Cairo roped a game-winning single to center field in the bottom of the ninth, breaking a game that was tied just two innings before and sending the Reds home 4-3 walk-off winners.
“All you can do is get up there and swing,” Desmond said, himself stranded on the basepaths on three different occasions. “It’s the law of averages. Sometimes you’re going to get hits and sometimes you’re not. It can only hold us down for so long.
“Just get a good pitch up in the zone and try to put it in the outfield. No one’s trying to make it rocket science. We’re just not getting hits with runners in scoring position. It’s as simple as that.”
The Nationals were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position Friday night — opening the game 0-for-6 — and were saved from going 0-for the evening when Wilson Ramos hit his 11th home run of the season into the right field seats. The three-run shot helped save the Nationals from earning another dubious statistic. But when Tom Gorzelanny surrendered the winning run, relieving Chien-Ming Wang after six innings of two-run baseball, it wasn’t enough.
With Desmond and Bixler hitting one-two in the Nationals lineup — and combining to reach base six times in 10 plate appearances — the Nationals No.’s 3, 4 and 5 hitters, Ryan Zimmerman, Morse and Jayson Werth, were a combined 2-for-14 behind them.
“When the big guys in your lineup run a little cold, it’s a little unnerving,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “But they’ll come out of it, they’re good hitters. We were setting the table for them and they weren’t having a good night.”
Instead the Nationals look to break their longest losing streak since a six-game stretch that lasted from July 23-29 and spanned three series knowing that they’re now 2-for-42 with runners in scoring position over their last four games. The number itself is galling but it’s not something anyone in uniform could have told you off the top of their heads.
“If we just keep playing it’s going to happen,” Morse said. “Every team goes through this stuff.”
The game was delayed once more, lasting 17 minutes, following the seventh inning, when a second bank of lights went out. The teams were pulled off the field until the problem was fixed — a break that could have fallen the Nationals way as flamethrower Aroldis Chapman had been warmed and brought in for the Reds before the delay, but didn’t. It was, at least, fitting with the way much of the rest of the night went for them.
“I felt good that we had the right guys up,” Johnson said. “We should have added on a couple times. We had the meat of the lineup up with runners in scoring position and didn’t swing the bats good. It’s a tough loss.”