The Washington Nationals did so many things right Friday night — Roger Bernadina’s highlight-reel, game-saving catch, the timely home run and RBI-hits, the near-perfect relay throw they executed in the 11th inning — that it was almost difficult to believe they were the ones leaving Nationals Park with their second straight loss.
Ultimately, though, they were almost too perfect.
On a double down the right field line by Greg Dobbs in the top of the 11th inning, Nationals’ right fielder Jayson Werth, second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. and catcher Wilson Ramos each did their jobs so well that it was a near impossibility they wouldn’t have Florida Marlins second baseman Omar Infante dead at the plate with the inning’s second out.
But as Ramos swept the tag from his right side to his left, Infante dove in head first, jerked his left arm back around Ramos‘ glove, and shot it back out just in time to swipe his fingertips on home plate. Just like that, one of the Nationals’ best-played and most exciting games of the year was reduced to their second consecutive extra-innings loss, this one 6-5 to the Florida Marlins.
“It was almost like the play, from Werth picking the ball up, to the relay, to the tag, we executed it so well that it was almost too fast,” said shortstop Ian Desmond who drove in the Nationals’ first run of the game in the third but strained his left quad during the game and will miss at least Saturday’s matinee.
“Ramos caught the ball and slid and tagged and [Infante] wasn’t even there yet and by the time he realized he’d already come back around. That was about as perfectly executed of a cut-off and relay you could really have and he just had a good slide.”
“These three fingers,” Infante told reporters, holding up his left hand. “That’s it.”
That was it, especially for the Nationals, who went down easily in the bottom of the 11th marring a game that otherwise provided some of their most jaw-dropping plays of the season. Until that point, the Nationals were, quite simply, riding the backs of Laynce Nix and Roger Bernadina — two outfielders who weren’t exactly part of their everyday plans when the team broke from spring training six weeks ago.
One landed flat on his back to make a game-saving catch, the other led the way for the Nats’ offense.
“I’ll tell you, that was a great ballgame,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “We played really good baseball … I’m proud to be associated with them. A ballgame like that, I hate to lose that game. I know they’re agonizing over it. But that was good baseball.”
Several parts of it exceeded that definition — like the leaping, over-the-shoulder, snowcone catch of a sure double to center field by Mike Stanton by Bernadina in the fifth inning. Bernadina’s feet went over his head on the way down to a hard landing at the edge of the outfield grass for the third out of the inning that, at the time, kept the game tied.
“Greatest catch of all time,” said reliever Tyler Clippard who watched from the bullpen and later gave up a solo home run to Stanton. “Best catch I’ve ever seen.”
All Nix did was hit a solo home run into the second deck of center field seats to ignite a game-tying three-run rally in the fourth and follow it up with a game-tying two-run double to score Werth with two outs in the eighth — a tally that would last the Nationals until Infante’s fingertip slide in the 11th.
Still, it was a loss — the Nationals’ 20th of the 2011 season — and while that was certainly acknowledged in a quiet clubhouse stewing over the outcome, there wasn’t much else for the Nationals to bemoan about the game.
“[This loss isn’t] tough for me at all,” Desmond said. “We’ve been playing great baseball. It just feels like we’re just really coming into our own right now. We’re starting to believe in ourselves right now.
“I think the winning attitude that other players from other teams have been brought over for, like Laynce Nix coming up with the big hit — you watch Cincinnati, they’re doing that every night — and Jayson [Werth] with, a huge walk late in the game. That’s the direction that we’re moving in. When we get [Ryan Zimmerman]back, Mr. Walkoff himself, it’s going to be really fun around here.”