“We gave it away,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
So the grounders that Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond could not turn into outs may not have been backbreaking moments. But the Nationals will have only so many chances to gain ground on the Cincinnati Reds, who lost and still hold an 81
2 -game lead over the Nationals for the second National League wild card.
With Tyler Clippard off after pitching the ninth inning of a five-run win Saturday night, Craig Stammen relieved Haren in the eighth and got two quick outs. After a walk, Billy Butler squibbed a groundball off the end of his bat, straight at LaRoche.
“That’s one of my least favorite plays, is a cue shot from a righty, for the simple fact it’s not something you can work on,” LaRoche said. “There’s no way to really mimic it.”
The ball deflected off LaRoche and trickled to his right. Initially, he thought the ball had kicked left, but he scampered over to gather it. LaRoche turned to flip to Stammen but saw no one; Stammen had remained on the mound rather than rushing to cover.
“I just froze,” Stammen said. “When it hit him and bounced away, it was like, go after the ball or go after the base? Obviously, I need to go to the base.”
LaRoche still had time to outrun the glacial Butler. Flat-footed, he looked at second instead but had no chance to retire Eric Hosmer. By the time he finally rushed back to first base, it was too late.
“If I just cover first, we’re probably out of the inning,” Stammen said. “It’s kind of tough to take.”
Stammen pitched carefully to Mike Moustakas and walked him to load the bases, and Salvador Perez lumbered to the plate. Perez hit a one-hopper to shortstop Desmond’s backhand. Desmond didn’t field it cleanly, but he recovered with enough time to choose his throw.
Desmond’s arm strength may have given him a shot at retiring Perez at first.
“For me to come up and throw it across the infield, that’s a pretty risky throw,” Desmond said.
As he scooped the ball, Desmond noticed Butler glance at him. Rather than the conventional play — turning and firing to second — Desmond quickly decided his best chance was trying to retire Butler at third.