Soriano focused not on the 3-2 pitch Sanchez crushed down the right field line and into the upper deck. He fumed about the 2-2 cutter Sanchez had looked at for ball three, a pitch Soriano believed had been tucked inside the upper edge of the strike zone.
“I think the game [should have been] over,” Soriano said. “That pitch, to me, I think it be a strike. I think that was when the game changed.”
The year already had sapped most of the resolve from the Nationals, and now they will find out how much they have left. Just as they climbed back to the edge of contention, a small milestone turned into a disaster before 36,719 stunned fans.
Just as the Nats hit their stride, they fell down a trap door.
“That one hurt,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That one hurt.”
Rather than reach .500 for the first time since July 19, the Nationals packed for Atlanta trying to stomach a crushing loss, nine games back of the second wild-card spot. Soriano suffered his career-high fifth blown save, Dan Haren’s latest tremendous start went up in flames and the Nationals’ flickering hopes to make September matter dimmed a little more.
“It definitely hurts,” Haren said. “The mood kind of stinks right now in here.”
Johnson had wanted to avoid using his two best relievers, Tyler Clippard and Soriano, each for the third straight day. But the Nationals did not add to the three runs it scored in the third inning, and so Johnson summoned Clippard to handle the eighth.
Before the ninth inning, he had Craig Stammen warming up next to Soriano, hoping the Nationals would tack on insurance runs and make a save chance obsolete.
They did not, marooning 11 runners in the process, six coming as Giants Manager Bruce Bochy used intentional walks to twice make Haren hit with the bases loaded and two outs.
“Probably the bigger story is, we had a lot of runners on base and we didn’t push them across,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who roped a two-run double in the third. “We had the starter out after 32
3 and we didn’t score after that. We’ve got to do a better job to push more runs across.”
And so, in jogged Soriano to face the heart of the Giants’ lineup. The night before, he had earned the save only because Denard Span had made a game-saving, diving catch. Soriano had already worked three consecutive days four times this season.