Just as a bonus, Torii Hunter smoked a foul ball into the Nationals’ dugout in the 10th that narrowly missed Johnson’s face, buzzing between him and equipment manager Mike Wallace. After they regrouped and started laughing, Wallace looked at Johnson. “Shoulda been a farmer,” he said.
Four batters later, the game had ended and no one was laughing in the Nationals dugout. The bitter end did not lessen Johnson’s thrill to be back in the game after 11 seasons away from the majors.
“It was a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed every minute of it. It had a little bit of everything in that ballgame. It’s a joy. I love baseball. I enjoyed every pitch that was thrown. That never changes.”
The Nationals, who have still won 13 of 16 games and sit one win over .500, have bailed out many offensively challenged performances with dominant pitching and clutch hitting, but Monday showed what happens when their starter is only good, not great, and their offense cannot score more than a few runs. They have proven their mettle, but they can rely on clutch hitting only so much.
“We don’t want to go down to the last-wire all the time, eighth, ninth inning and try to make a comeback all the time,” Espinosa said. “We have guys that can do it. When you have that on your team, you have a fighting chance.”
Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals every speck of offense they managed against Angels starter Ervin Santana, smashing a solo home run apiece and collecting four of the six Nationals’ hits. Espinosa clobbered his homer off closer Jordan Walden to give the Nationals a chance, but they received little help, especially from one of their presumed big bats.
Jayson Werth continued his recent drastic slide, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, the last looking at inside fastball in the 10th inning against left-handed reliever Scott Downs with Brian Bixler on second base. In his past 20 plate appearances, Werth has one hit, two walks and 11 strikeouts. Seventy-nine games into a seven-year, $126 million contract, Werth is hitting .224.
“He’ll be alright,” Johnson said. “He’s so driven to succeed and do well, carry the ball club. The big news tonight was Zim was in a pretty bad slump, and he came out of that, swung the bat real good. The other guys are going to start joining him. We’re not worried about it.