SAN FRANCISCO — As the Nationals and Giants soared past the four-hour mark Monday night, the crowd at AT&T Park never wavered. The innings continued to pass, the pitchers and position players left on each team's bench continued to wane and ultimately Washington turned to its last man standing.
Summoned from Triple-A Syracuse just two days prior, Craig Stammen would be on the mound for the duration — from the 13th inning until the clubs resolved their battle of wills.
"I knew I'd have to come in eventually if it kept going, and I'd have to be counted on for multiple innings," Stammen said.
When Freddy Sanchez strode into the batter's box in the bottom of the 13th, his seventh plate appearance, Stammen was all but powerless to stop what was coming next.
Considering the way the Nationals had gotten to that point, blowing a three-run lead in the eighth inning off bloop hits, it was only fitting that a single be the decisive swing in a 5-4 Nationals loss.
"Unfortunately," Stammen said later of his outing, "it only lasted one inning."
It didn't even last that long. Sanchez's hit scored Chris Stewart from third base, and Stammen officially worked two-thirds of an inning. But the game was lost much earlier.
The Nationals' undoing came in an eighth inning that ruined the third straight solid outing by John Lannan — along with another impressive showing against TIm Lincecum, San Francisco's two-time Cy Young Award winner. It featured a bullpen implosion that started with Todd Coffey, continued through the unbelievably bad luck of Sean Burnett and ended with nerve-wracking wildness from Henry Rodriguez.
That was followed by four straight scoreless innings from Rodriguez, Cole Kimball and Drew Storen, but ultimately they were not enough.
That work later couldn't reverse the two-on, one-out sinking liner by Aubrey Huff that sneaked inside the right-field line, and it couldn't change the fact that pinch hitter Nate Schierholtz was able to drop one into left field in similar fashion two batters later to score Huff with the tying run. The Nationals eventually stopped the bleeding, but they couldn't fully heal the wound.
"There was a lot of stoppage for a lot of innings there on both sides," said Michael Morse, who hit his ninth home run in the second inning. The Nationals tagged Lincecum for three runs in the third, two scoring on a double by Morse. The first baseman since Adam LaRoche went on the disabled list, Morse has seven home runs and 22 RBI in his past 15 games.
But 10 scoreless innings followed the early outburst. "We were one hit away, and they were one hit away also," Morse said. "We fought all the way to the end. Their pitchers held us right there."
The Nationals' bullpen largely has been a strength this season. But for the second straight game, the relievers have been roughed up. Lannan allowed just four hits and one earned run in seven innings, then watched as his potential fourth victory of the season slipped away.
"The Giants, that's how they won it last year," Lannan said. "They didn't give up.
"I knew that the game wasn't over yet, and I had faith that the relievers were going to do a good job. I think they did, there were just balls that didn't go our way."
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Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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