- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DENVER | The strangest thing about this Washington Nationals loss, their 57th of the season and one of the most notable in terms of sheer goofiness? Cristian Guzman’s seventh-inning error, a play on which a ball shot under his backhand attempt, off his foot and into the outfield as the shortstop stood frozen, didn’t even produce the Colorado Rockies’ winning run.

No, there were enough other things that went wrong in this 5-4 loss, some typical (eight men left on base), some odd (bad hops, wild throws and belated rundowns), to seal the Nationals’ fate. In the final game of a first half that went worse than anyone in the organization could have ever fathomed, this funhouse loss to the Rockies was an appropriate finish.

It was a game the Nationals could have won, even with rookie Jordan Zimmermann looking ragged from the beginning. But it was a game that they somehow found a way to lose, giving up the Rockies’ go-ahead run on Joe Beimel’s throwing error in the eighth inning.

“I don’t I’m as disappointed with the defense as the walks,” manager Manny Acta said. “I think walks are a curse, and that’s been the recipe for us. We didn’t even have to rely on our defense if we hadn’t walked those two guys in [the eighth] inning.”

The Rockies’ Alan Embree, who earned the win, didn’t even throw a pitch, becoming the first major league player to pick up a victory in that fashion since 2003.

“It’s just how it is, you know?” said reliever Julian Tavarez, who walked two batters before Beimel’s critical error in the eighth. “One pitch, one play can change the whole thing.”

Zimmermann, riding a monthlong wave of effectiveness that showed he might be speeding up the process toward being a front-line major league starter, looked nothing like that pitcher Tuesday night. From the five-pitch walk he issued to Dexter Fowler to start the game - spraying four of his five high fastballs outside the strike zone - it was clear Zimmermann would be pitching almost in spite of himself all night.

“I don’t know what the deal was,” Zimmermann said. “I was trying to work the corners, and maybe I should have been trying to put it more down the middle and let the ball run on the corners. I just didn’t have my stuff tonight.”

He gave up a single to Clint Barmes after the leadoff walk to Fowler, then surrendered another single to Brad Hawpe two batters later. The second and third innings brought two more walks and a hit, though Zimmermann ducked out of both of those innings, one by throwing a curveball under Fowler’s bat and the next with the help of a double play.

But just when it looked like the Nationals would be able to cover up Zimmermann’s mistakes with power - Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman drove in four runs on a pair of homers - the rookie pitcher’s wildness met Willie Harris’ error at an unfortunate confluence.

Zimmermann gave up hits to Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Stewart to start the fourth inning, then Chris Iannetta drove in Tulowitzki with a sacrifice fly. Still, that one run could have been the only damage in the inning if Fowler’s grounder didn’t take a bad hop on Harris.

When the ball was about to reach the second baseman’s glove, it jumped up and caught Harris in the groin. As it rolled away, Stewart scored. Then Barmes singled to right, tying the game and removing any shred of opportunity the Nationals had to salvage a subpar night from their young starter.

Chances to win the game later, though, came in abundance. And they went away unfulfilled.

With men on first and second and no outs in the fifth, Zimmerman grounded into his second double play of the night. The Nationals loaded the bases in the sixth with two outs, bouncing starter Jason Hammel from the game, but reliever Franklin Morales locked up Nyjer Morgan with a 2-2 inside fastball.

From there, the degrees of malaise got more comical. Austin Kearns got a two-out hit in the eighth but got picked off first, fell down on his way to second base and only could try futilely to fight his way out of a rundown.

That set the stage for the strangest turn of events, the one that led to the Rockies’ winning run in the eighth.

It was facilitated by some predictable self-made trouble from the Nationals’ bullpen; Tavarez walked two batters with one out in the inning, leaving a tenuous situation for Beimel to clean up.

“I am very patient, but my patience runs out when there’s a veteran guy and he’s not throwing strikes,” Acta said. “Beimel is our guy in those types of situations. He did his job — he got the ground ball. But unfortunately he threw the ball away.”

He got pinch hitter Ryan Spilborghs to hit his second pitch right back to the mound for what should have been an easy inning-ending and jam-breaking double play. Only when Beimel wheeled around to throw to Guzman at second, he saw Harris out of the corner of his eye backing up the play behind second and hit him behind the bag instead. Harris fired to first but couldn’t make the throw in time to get Spilborghs.

“I knew I had Guzie on the throw,” Beimel said. “I saw somebody standing there. I didn’t realize it wasn’t Guzie, and I just messed up and threw it to the wrong guy. I did everything right until that point — anticipated the ground ball, got it and just blew it. There’s no other way to describe it.”

That loaded the bases, and when Barmes’ sacrifice fly scored Carlos Gonzalez before the Nationals could get Seth Smith in a rundown to end the inning, the Rockies had their improbable go-ahead run.

“You’re in the game the whole game, and it comes down to one play and you lose the game.” Beimel said. “We’ve had a lot of those this year, and it’s just been really frustrating.”

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