The Washington Nationals lost a baseball game Wednesday night, an outcome that only seemed fair after they came one walk shy of tying a team record for the most bases on balls issued in a nine-inning game.
In its most empirical sense, that’s why the Colorado Rockies got the better of Washington in a 5-4 game at Nationals Park — the Nationals handed the Rockies too many chances to score. But if that were the only reason for the loss, it stands to reason the score would have been much more lopsided and the outcome less frustrating.
Despite the control problems, which began with floundering starter Collin Balester and threaded through every one of the Nationals’ relievers, they were only a run away from winning for the fourth time in five games for most of the night.
No, there was more going on here. If walks dug the Nationals’ hole, their own inability to jump on a off-night from Rockies starter Jason Marquis was the reason they couldn’t get out of it.
Marquis, who dominated the Nationals last month at Coors Field, gave up nine hits in six-plus innings. But the Nationals left runners at third four times. And the outcome, in the end, was just as automatic as the pitching performance suggested it should have been — the Rockies were a step ahead of Washington all night.
Carlos Gonzalez hit an insurance homer for the second straight night, helping the Rockies withstand a solo blast by Josh Bard in the ninth and score their fifth win in as many games against the Nationals this year.
The consequences of Balester’s outing should have been a Rockies lead much more substantial than one run heading into the seventh inning.
The right-hander, after giving up six homers in his last two starts, found a new way to beat himself Wednesday night. He walked the first two batters he faced, committing a throwing error on a pickoff play to move them over a base and open up first, then walked one more.
With the bases loaded, Balester allowed a double to Troy Tulowitzki. After that, he walked Brad Hawpe.
The Rockies’ first five batters all reached base, only one of them on a hit, and Colorado had a 2-0 lead. That the Rockies’ half of the first ended without another run was less a feat of effectiveness than an improbability — Colorado hit two fly balls to the outfield, neither one particularly deep, and Todd Helton retreated to third after starting for home each time.
Washington got back one of the two runs in the bottom of the first. But the first sign of Balester’s continuing struggles came early in the top of the second, when Marquis blasted a double to the center-field wall.
Balester would also give up a triple and a walk before leaving the game with one out in the second. In that time, he walked five, allowed three hits and three runs and retired four, throwing just 24 strikes in 51 pitches.
But the wildness didn’t leave with Balester. The Nationals walked 10 batters in all, also hitting one in the sixth inning. They somehow were only down one headed into the eighth, though, when the Rockies continued to leave runners idling on the basepaths. Helton walked four times, singled once and never made it past third base.
Which isn’t to say the Nationals didn’t blow a couple of prime chances to steal a win. Ryan Zimmerman got stuck at third twice — after tripling home Nyjer Morgan with one out in the first and doubling in Cristian Guzman in the fifth. Adam Dunn, improbably, had two infield hits; he got stuck at third after his first one. Alberto Gonzalez also ended the seventh inning there after a leadoff single.
So a game of squandered chances reached the eighth inning with Carlos Gonzalez leading off for the Rockies, just as it did the night before, with the Nationals trailing by a run. And again, Gonzalez blasted a home run to center field that stretched the Rockies’ lead to two and put things just a little too far out of reach.