NEW YORK — As the Nationals packed up in the visiting clubhouse Thursday afternoon, leaving New York after 48 hours, two losses and without a single run, most of their post-game frustration was focused on Phil Cuzzi’s blown call at first base in the ninth inning.
“I want to be an umpire when I grow up,” one Nationals player joked, the loudest voice in a quiet clubhouse. “No responsibility, no accountability.”
The call in question, of course, was on Jayson Werth’s infield grounder to third base with one out in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game. Werth, who was errantly called out on the play, would have given the Nationals runners at first and third (Laynce Nix) and their best scoring opportunity of the entire day.
Instead, they were left with the tying run at third base and the winning run at the plate in struggling first baseman Adam LaRoche, who promptly grounded out to first to end the game.
The Nationals were quite animated about the call. Werth put his hands on his head and stomped his feet, starting to speak to Cuzzi when manager Jim Riggleman darted out of the dugout. While Werth retreated, Riggleman gave Cuzzi an earful.
“I’m just reacting to what Jayson and (first base coach) Dan Radison are doing over there,” Riggleman said. “From where I was at, I felt he was going to beat the play because he’s hustling down the line. Whether (first baseman Daniel Murphy’s foot) is on the base or not, I think he’s going to be safe. Then I thought (Murphy) came off the base, so I was pretty confident he was safe.
“I didn’t really get an explanation. He just said he was out. I was doing most of the talking. But obviously the explanation is he thinks the throw beat the runner, and he thinks the first baseman stayed on the base. That constitutes an out.”
Radison was not available for comment, but Cuzzi gave Riggleman quite a lot of rope — which could be interpreted as an admission of guilt over blowing the call — but the Nationals were irritated further when Riggleman appealed to home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who’s experience in the major leagues is mostly limited to fill-in basis, refused to offer an opinion.
“I wanted to see if, from his angle he could see better maybe that the first baseman came off the base,” Riggleman said. “He’s got a good look at that. Sometimes the other guy doesn’t have as good a look. He’s looking for sounds. The ball hits the glove, the foot hits the bag. He’s got to be thinking about that. And also see if the foot’s on the base. Maybe the home plate umpire can get a better look. He just refused to do that.”
Several players jawed with the umpires as they made their way off the field following the final out, obviously upset by the call and the actions that followed.
Most Nationals refused to comment on the record about the play. For his part, Werth offered this: “I’m not commenting on umpires. One of those things, yeah, that’s baseball. Not much to say about it really. It happened not quite an hour ago and I’ve been over it for a while… I don’t really have too many thoughts on much right now.”
Livan Hernandez, however, had plenty to say about it: “What did I see? He was safe. He beat him two times. He was safe when the guy (Murphy) got off the bag and he was safe because he beat the throw. I think he made a big mistake, the umpire there, because it’s not about his foot is off the bag. It’s safe because he beat the throw. He was safe two times.”
The call clearly changed the course of the game. There’s no way to know whether LaRoche’s at-bat goes differently with two men on instead of one, or whether or not Danny Espinosa (who was due up next) produces even if LaRoche does make the inning’s second out.
But for as much as the Nationals were fired up over the blown call, the fact that they had three hits all day — and not one until the sixth inning — was more to blame for their second straight shutout loss. They haven’t scored a single run in their past 19 innings of baseball.
“That’s a big call, but we can’t let the game come down to that,” Riggleman said. “We’ve got to do more. We can’t have (three) hits and two days in a row get shut out. We’re better than that, and we’re going to have to do better than that.”