Soriano worked a 3-2 count against Kieschnick, then walked him with a misfired fastball. The game remained alive.
“You’ve got to get him out,” Johnson said. “Can’t come close to walking, got to make him put it in play. That’s what hurt.”
“Yeah, because how the guy be hitting right now — I see every time at-bat,” Soriano said. “I think that was when I lose that game.”
The walk brought Sanchez to the plate as a pinch hitter. Soriano quickly got ahead of him with two strikes. The crowd rose in anticipation. Soriano tried to get Sanchez to chase two fastballs, and he took both for balls.
The 2-2 pitch just missed — the crowd groaned. PITCHf/x technology that tracks pitch location deemed the pitch a strike, just inside the upper portion of the strike zone. Johnson, though, thought home plate umpire Jim Joyce had kept a consistent strike zone all day — generous low, stingy high.
“I think, to me, that would be the game right there,” Soriano said. “I don’t think it be a bad pitch at all.”
Agitated, Soriano tried to regroup. He tried to throw a cutter inside. The pitch zipped over the middle of the plate, up and out of the strike zone — “it was a ball,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. But Sanchez swung, and he crushed it into the upper deck.
The Nationals could not put anyone on base in the bottom of the ninth, thanks largely to Brandon Crawford’s diving stab of Bryce Harper’s liner. Signed this winter to a two-year, $28 million deal, Soriano’s ERA rose to 3.40, and he has allowed 50 hits and 12 walks in 501
The ninth inning has become an adventure, but Johnson feels no ambiguity about who his closer is.
“He’s been very consistent,” Johnson said. “He’ll give up some hits, but he makes pitches when he has to.”
Afterward, Soriano singled out Haren as the teammate he felt worst for. Given a 3-0 lead in the second inning, Haren allowed one run over six innings on just three hits and two walks. He lowered his ERA in seven starts since returning from the disabled list to 2.30.
“I definitely didn’t have my best stuff, but I made it work,” Haren said.
Thursday afternoon, Soriano threw five pitches with two strikes in the ninth. Any of them could have ended the game. He had to make a pitch, and he did not. The sting of a sudden loss erased good vibes attached to the Nationals’ winning streak, and a disappointing season added a new layer of frustration.