“I don’t know what’s going on,” LaRoche said. “You see guys trying a little [too] hard. We get guys on base, we’re trying too hard to drive them in.”
A two-run Nationals lead, forged on Jayson Werth’s two-run homer in the third, vanished a half-inning later thanks to leaky defense by the Nationals’ infield and Gonzalez’s inability to pitch above it. The Twins’ two-run fourth featured a pair of grounders just beyond the reach of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and the error by LaRoche on a sharp grounder hit right to him.
“I got to make that play. That one cost us the game,” LaRoche said. “That’s terrible.”
Equally costly, though, was a one-out walk issued to Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks — he of the .177 batting average entering the game — after getting ahead in the count 1-2. Gonzalez, who has never been accused of having a poker face, reacted angrily to the walk, and dejectedly to the lack of help from his infielders.
Gonzalez — pitching on six days’ rest and admittedly a little “rusty” — was done in by his lack of command, not so much because of any direct damage caused by his four walks but because of his mounting pitch count and the 2-2 fastball to Joe Mauer in the fifth inning that missed its mark by almost a foot, tailing over the plate for Mauer to crush into the Nationals’ bullpen to give the Twins a 3-2 lead.
Meantime, the Nationals’ tepid offense managed to make Twins starter Kevin Correia — a middling, pitch-to-contact right-hander — at times look like Nolan Ryan. Out of 102 qualifying starting pitchers in the majors, Correia ranked dead-last entering Saturday in strikeouts per nine innings, with 3.7. But facing the Nationals, he struck out seven in 61
3 innings, including Zimmerman, the No. 3 hitter, twice.
“That makes it even harder [to take]. You get a [pitcher] that you can get to, and we don’t,” LaRoche said.
Having reached both the end of their hell week and the 60-game milepost of their season, the Nationals are no longer putting a brave, happy face on their plight. There is no more talk of how early it still is in the season.
“We need to pick it up,” Johnson mumbled. “It’s getting late.”