DENVER — For three days, the Washington Nationals reveled in all that Coors Field and Colorado’s beleaguered pitching staff had to offer. They banged the ball all over the park, exploited the Rockies’ strict pitch counts and showed that they could indeed be the offensive team they’ve been promising for much of the season’s first half.
But all of the runs, all of the explosive offense they displayed in the middle two games of the series, didn’t mean much Thursday when Marco Scutaro’s 11th-inning RBI single floated into right-center field.
In a four-game series against the woebegone Rockies, the Nationals left town with only a split, learning very quickly in an 11-10, 11-inning loss that what Coors Field giveth it also easily taketh away.
“You come into every series wanting to win, but if it’s a split that we have to live with, so be it,” said Edwin Jackson who allowed eight earned runs off 10 hits and two walks in three innings in his worst start of the season. “We didn’t lose the series. Today was one of those crazy games with a chance to come in and close the deal, and I didn’t get the deal closed.”
A split, of course, is better than a loss. “That’s a good habit to get into,” as manager Davey Johnson put it. “I’ll take my chances.” But those types of lesser victories seem better suited to the Nationals teams of the past and not the one that entered the day with the best record in the National League.
The Nationals (43-31) scored 35 runs in 38 innings at the seemingly humidor-less park. They collected 49 hits in the final three games, but they lost the first game 4-2 by failing to generate much offense and dropped the final one by allowing too much of it.
“It was a good game,” said catcher Jesus Flores. “They just made the difference in the pitching. We made so many mistakes today that we couldn’t just hold the score.
“It’s frustrating because I think we did a good job battling and hitting and scoring runs to come back. But we weren’t able to hold the lead or keep hitting at the end.”
For the second straight start, Jackson didn’t appear to be himself. Normally a pitcher with a fastball in the 93-95 mph range, Thursday he consistently was in the low 90s in the first few innings. Jackson insisted it shouldn’t be any kind of injury red flag.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s just a little time where it’s not there,” Jackson said. “I’m not hurt or anything, I don’t feel any pain.”
But he called his performance Thursday “terrible,” and his stats supported that. Every member of the Rockies’ lineup reached base safely in a five-run first inning that only got worse when they tacked on two in the second and two in the fourth.
By then, though, the Nationals had begun to show signs of being the offensive juggernaut they were the previous two nights. In a five-run third inning , Washington sent all nine batters to the plate, getting a two-run single from Ryan Zimmerman and a three-run home run by Michael Morse.
Jackson was allowed to face one batter in the fourth before Johnson had seen enough. Jackson was not pleased to be leaving, with an ERA that jumped 0.66 of a run, but the Nationals took him off the hook when Ian Desmond got the best of his brother-in-law for the second time this series.
Facing Josh Roenicke, who is married to Desmond’s sister Nikki and off whom Desmond tripled Monday night, Desmond thought only two words: Go deep. Then he did for his first opposite-field home run of the season. His 13th homer of the year tied the game 9-9, and Bryce Harper’s eighth, a missile off Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt to leadoff the ninth, tied it at 10.
But whether it was Tom Gorzelanny in the fifth, when he allowed the Rockies to quickly retake the lead after Desmond’s blast, or Craig Stammen (3-1)being pushed to his limit in his third inning of work when he faced Scutaro, the Nationals’ pitchers could never keep the Rockies at bay.
“We had a great series,” Harper said. “It sucks we didn’t get that final win. But we played it tough today. We swung the bat well. We battled. They battled. The ball rolled their way.”