“I’ve got to find ways even when I don’t have my best stuff to go out there and compete and keep us in the game because it’s kind of getting out of hand,” Haren said. “If I’m not throwing the ball well, it’s really bad. If I’m throwing the ball well, everything’s fine. But there’s, like, no in-between. There’s nothing really different. I left balls up in the zone. Ball’s right down the middle. They’re professional hitters. That’s what they do.”
Haren’s style has not been defeated. He based his success for years on the simple formula of limiting walks and maximizing strikeouts. He has 5.89 strikeouts for every walk, an excellent ratio that typically would suggest success. But Haren has an obvious problem for which he has not found a solution: When batters make contact, they splatter his pitches.
Haren took the mound in the second with a 1-0 lead. The park still buzzed from the ninth inning the night before, and he had a lead to protect after Rendon had adeptly fielded two grounders at his new position.
“Sometimes you get mistakes and they foul it off or they hit it hard right at somebody or they miss them,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “It seems like he can’t catch a break.”
Haren allowed a leadoff double to Lucas Duda, which brought RFK-era National Marlon Byrd to the plate. Haren threw a 1-1 splitter that hung over the heart of the plate. Byrd smashed it over the center field fence. The Nationals’ lead had become a fond memory.
“Definitely after last night’s win, we would’ve liked to have come out with a little bit more intensity,” Span said.
The Mets struck again the next inning, again pulverizing Haren’s mistakes. Daniel Murphy ripped a single to center with one out. Haren fed David Wright a first-pitch, 88-mph fastball at the belt. He blasted it into the red seats.
The Nationals trailed, 4-1, and the rest of the third inning only further ensured the bullpen would be depleted. Byrd drilled his second home run of the night, crushing a cutter Haren could not get down in the zone.
By the end of the night, the Nationals — the third-place Nationals — had relearned a hard truth. They do not need turning points or superstitious facial hair. They need runs from their offense and a veteran starter who can keep the ball on the right side of the fence. Momentum is nice, but it is no substitute for sound baseball.