Saturday, June 25, 2011

CHICAGO — The Washington Nationals played baseball for nearly five hours Friday night, needing 14 innings to continue a winning surge that has made them the hottest team in baseball. But the emotional toll of what Nationals interim manager John McLaren called “the most intense” game he’d seen likely weighed on them Saturday afternoon.

Despite getting seven innings of one-run baseball from Tom Gorzelanny, the Nationals were silenced by a patchwork group of Chicago White Sox pitchers in a 3-0 loss that was just their second in the past 14 games.

“Answer’s yes, let’s be honest about it,” McLaren said when asked if it was tough to duplicate the energy from Friday night’s exciting victory. “We wanted to win. We tried to do something different by not [taking batting practice] today and giving the guys a little extra time. It didn’t work and the difference was that their pitchers did a great job.

“Some of the pitches that came in there, I just shook my head. I said, ‘Those are unhittable,’ a few of them. I think you can give the other team too much credit but I don’t think you could today.”

The Nationals looked to catch a break in the second inning when White Sox starter John Danks grabbed at his back following a fly out to right field by Jerry Hairston Jr. Danks stayed on the mound for a few minutes longer, working with trainers to determine if he could stay in, but was ultimately pulled with a right oblique strain.

Brian Bruney was summoned from the White Sox bullpen and suddenly Jake Peavy — a Chicago starter not scheduled to pitch in this series — was seen trotting out to the bullpen. The Nationals had not prepared for Peavy, but the way he pitched for four innings — allowing one hit and striking out seven — it likely wouldn’t have mattered if they had. It was Peavy’s first career relief appearance.

“I didn’t see Peavy’s name on that list,” McLaren said with a wry smile when asked if he’d been brought up in the hitter’s meeting Friday afternoon. “He just had really good stuff. Bruney stepped up to the plate and Peavy, Peavy was unreal. We know Peavy. He’s been in the league a long time. He was stellar. He was outstanding.”

In battling through seven innings in which baserunners were on in every inning but his last, Gorzelanny not only gave the Nationals a chance to get their bats going but did the team a service by saving the bullpen. Only Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus were needed out of the bullpen Saturday afternoon after every member pitched Friday night. Rodriguez allowed the other two runs.

“Going that far into [Friday’s] game, 14 innings and using every single guy out there, you realize today was a big day and I had to go out there and give everything I had to try to get as far as I can in this game,” Gorzelanny said. “And I felt good.”

“Gorzelanny really did a great job for us,” McLaren said. “He did an incredible job and the way it looked in the first inning, I wasn’t sure if we could get more than five or maybe six at the most. He did us a great service and I appreciate the way he stepped up to the plate there.”

The Nationals will send Livan Hernandez to the mound on Sunday against White Sox right-hander Philip Humber looking for their fifth straight series victory. They’ll do so knowing that when the game ends, they’ll have a new manager in Davey Johnson and likely still head to Anaheim as one of the hottest teams in baseball, win or lose.

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