The pitch will soon be forgotten in a season marked by disappointment and unmet expectations.
But as the sun sank Thursday night, the lingering rays illuminated the right field foul pole at Nationals Park and, in an instant, a 92-mph fastball represented everything that’s gone wrong for the Washington Nationals.
The team had won five straight games. The moribund offense showed life. A three-game series at the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves starting Friday beckoned.
And then Davey Johnson brought in Rafael Soriano in the top of the ninth inning to hold off the San Francisco Giants and hold onto a two-run advantage. Minutes later, the Giants had a 4-3 victory over the Nationals and boos, catcalls and howls of disgust floated through the ballpark.
Johnson didn’t want to use his closer, the man handed the surprise two-year, $28 million offseason contract expected to make a strong bullpen even more so. He wanted to save him for the Braves series. Keep alive the dim hopes of turning the runaway division into a race.
But in trotted Soriano to start the ninth and try to record his 32nd save in 51 appearances this season. Setup man Tyler Clippard, who Johnson also wanted to preserve for Atlanta, had already pitched the eighth. Drew Storen, who saved 43 games in 2011 and returned Thursday from a brief exile to Triple-A Syracuse, remained in the bullpen.
Buster Posey greeted Soriano with a single. Roger Kieschnick walked. Two men were out. Up came pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez and the last hope for the last-place team in the National League West.
A nervous murmur fluttered through the crowd of 36,719.
Sanchez fouled off two 93-mph fastballs.
Then the 23-year-old took three consecutive balls.
Soriano threw a four-seam fastball down the middle. Sanchez, owner of three career home runs in 296 at-bats, launched the ball toward the right field foul pole turned bright yellow by the setting sun.
That was it. Dan Haren’s fourth straight solid start? Gone. Ian Desmond’s two-run rocket of a double? Gone. The win streak that revived hopes, however slim, that this World Series or bust season still had life? Gone. Returning to .500? Gone.
Roars of discontent, much as could be mustered before fans streamed to the exits and clogged Half Street, bombarded Soriano. They were soon drowned out by boisterous orange-clad Giants supporters celebrating the unexpected come-from-behind win.
“Every little thing will be all right,” Bob Marley sang over the stadium’s speakers.
The Nationals were left with another missed opportunity. Another familiar story. Another errant pitch. Another ball soaring down the line and disappearing. Just like their season.