CINCINNATI — Nearly four hours after it had begun, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson tried to talk about what had transpired for his team on the field in front of him at Great American Ball Park Friday night.
His face was sullen. His interest in discussing a 15-0 shellacking by the Cincinnati Reds — the Nationals’ most lopsided loss since baseball returned to Washington in 2005 — was minimal.
“We got beat just about every way you can think of today,” Johnson said. “Turn the page. Move on. One of those games.”
Simply calling it a loss was correct, if perhaps not the most apt description. The game, in which the Nationals surrendered six home runs for the first time in their history in the District, was a bloodbath.
“Things happen,” Johnson said. “Things happen for a reason. We got our, you-know-what kicked. But there’s always tomorrow.”
It seemed almost strange given how tranquilly the whole thing began, with Dan Haren making his regular-season debut and showing off the type of command early that’s made him one of the game’s most reliable starters.
Even after back-to-back home runs by Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart in the second inning — two of the four Haren would surrender before giving way to the bullpen — it seemed as though he could regroup. As though he could keep the Nationals close in the first game they’d trailed in all season.
The more his pitches ran back over the plate, the quicker that hope evaporated.
“I know I’m better than that,” Haren said, his final line reflecting four innings of work, nine hits, six earned runs, five strikeouts and a hit batter. “There’s no use dwelling on it… I’ve had my share of bad games, along with good games, and they’re tough to deal with. I think the sooner you forget about it, the better.
“This start isn’t going to define how the year is going to go for me.”
After a season-opening trouncing of the Marlins that put some of the Nationals’ best qualities on display, any illusions they’d held of the rest of the league attacking them in a similar manner were cleared up quickly.
The reality check came in the form of an all-out barrage from the Reds.
Fifteen runs. Nineteen hits. You had to go back six seasons, to 2007, to find their last loss with a margin close to as wide as this one. And they still topped it.
Frazier hit two homers. So did Cozart. Shin-Soo Choo added a fifth. One-time Nationals farm-hand Xavier Paul came to the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh, the runners equal parts the responsibility of left-hander Zach Duke and righty Henry Rodriguez, and crushed a grand slam as part of the Reds’ seven-run seventh.
All the while the Nationals struggled to string hits together against Homer Bailey and the parade of relievers who followed. They never once advanced a runner as far as third base.
“Not a fun game,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki, who lived through all 19 of the Reds hits from behind the plate. “When stuff like this happens, it just seems like you’re handcuffed out there. It’s like nothing can go right. They break bats, it’s a hit. Mistake, it’s a hit.
“There are some games you can get away with mistakes. Tonight wasn’t one of them. I felt pretty helpless out there.”
And yet with every gaudy statistic that could be dug up to describe the depths of what transpired on the field Friday night, there was still the constant reminder that comes with baseball’s long, grueling march toward the playoffs.
There are 158 games left.
The Nationals, at 3-1, are still tied for the most victories in the major leagues. They will return to the field at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, with Ross Detwiler on the mound, with a chance to even the series.
“You just dismiss these,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is still searching for his first hit of the season and may sit out Saturday’s game with a stiff back. “These are going to happen. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be on the better side of a lot of these games this year. This is one where nothing goes our way… Shake it off.”
“No excuses,” Haren said. “I felt good… When a game like this happens, you just look forward to getting out there again.”