- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

On Friday night, the Washington Nationals did plenty of the things that have caused them to lose more games than any other team in the major leagues this year. And on this particular night, none of them was the reason the Nationals lost.

Jason Bergmann’s throwing error in the sixth inning didn’t lead to a run. Neither did Cristian Guzman’s fielding error in the eighth. Adam Dunn lost a liner by Brian Schneider in the lights in the fifth with a man on first - but it didn’t produce a run.

Shairon Martis needed 100 pitches to get through the first four innings, and Joe Beimel gave up a hit and a walk to load the bases after Guzman’s error in the eighth. And none of it mattered in the final outcome.

No, the Nationals lost 3-1 to the New York Mets because in the 10th inning, Joel Hanrahan either did or didn’t lose faith in his fastball. Manager Manny Acta said he thought Hanrahan backed away from the 95 mph pitch he relied on in a quick ninth inning. Hanrahan said he threw it enough.

The means could be debated; the end can’t. The closer’s 10th-inning misadventure led to two runs that cost Washington the game.

“He continues to have so much more confidence in that slider than the 95 miles-per-hour fastball,” Acta said. “It’s a tough one that we still have to be drilling into him. … Perhaps he doesn’t have as much confidence as we have in it. It’s something that’s been discussed before, and it’s going to continue to come up with him.”

The loss was Washington’s 18th in 21 games and dropped the Nationals’ record against NL East opponents to 5-26. Despite the Nationals’ problems in the first nine innings, they got to extra innings on a dreary night at Nationals Park with the score tied at 1-1.

Hanrahan breezed through the ninth in eight pitches, five of them fastballs. It was as efficient an inning as Hanrahan has had all year, so there were few reasons why he couldn’t come back out for the 10th, especially with Luis Castillo (.250 lifetime average against Hanrahan) and Carlos Beltran (.143) due up.

The third hitter slated to bat, David Wright, had tormented Hanrahan; his lifetime numbers against the closer coming in were a .385 average, a homer and six RBI. But that might not have mattered so much if Hanrahan hadn’t painted himself into a corner against the first two hitters.

The single to Castillo had more to do with him than Hanrahan, who pumped two fastballs for strikes. Then he tried a low slider, hoping Castillo would chase it. But he chopped down on the ball, pushing it through the hole between first and second.

Then Hanrahan packed five pitches on the outer half of the plate, missing with four of them. Beltran never took the bat off his shoulder, and the Mets suddenly had runners on first and second with no outs.

Wright slashed a 2-2 fastball to right field for a two-run double, almost like a bill coming due on everything Hanrahan had going for him against the first two hitters.

“I made some good pitches,” Hanrahan said. “They’re some good hitters. I had Castillo 0-and-2, and he hit the ball off the ground almost. And I made some pitches to Beltran that probably could have gone either way.

“I ended up walking him, and I wasn’t able to put Wright away. That was pretty much the game right there.”

The third baseman was hitting .143 against the Nationals before Friday night. But the double was his fourth hit, bookending an evening that started with another two-base hit that led to New York’s first run after a dubious call.

Wright tried to advance to third on Daniel Murphy’s flyout in the second, but replays showed Ryan Zimmerman caught Elijah Dukes’ throw and tagged Wright about a foot from the bag. But third-base umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled Wright safe, and he ended up scoring the Mets’ first run.

The Nationals countered with a run in the fifth, getting three hits off former teammate Tim Redding and tying the score on Alberto Gonzalez’s single. They had one hit the rest of the way, a single by Guzman in the eighth.

All that led to the 10th inning, which slipped through Hanrahan’s grasp.

“I have confidence out there, and that’s the main thing,” Hanrahan said. “I have confidence in every pitch I threw out there. I made some decent pitches that they beat me on today.”

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