Nationals allow six runs in 11th inning to drop series opener against Orioles

Baltimore 8, Washington 2


Nationals reliever Craig Stammen enters the dugout after a rough 11th inning. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The echo from the meeting of Chris Davis’s destructive bat and Craig Stammen’s woebegone fastball still persisted, and at a moment when silence would typically descend, roars cascaded from the Nationals Park seats. Fans in orange and red had battled for the stadium’s aural space all night. It took 11 innings of jangled nerves, clutch swings and dominant pitching. At the moment the Washington Nationals crumbled, both the fans from Baltimore and the Orioles had won out.

Some fans trudged to the Metro and some floated toward their cars for a joyride up I-95. Despite the way the Nationals collapsed in the 11th inning of an 8-2 loss to the Orioles, they could all savor the promise of three more games like Monday night’s, a thriller until the Orioles assaulted Stammen in the 11th.

“They’re really good,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “They’re a club that when you see them on your schedule, you’re going, ‘I hope those days get over quick.’ They’re good. That was a good baseball game between two good teams.”

It was not quick Monday night. The Nationals reached extra innings after Anthony Rendon blasted a game-tying, two-run homer in the sixth inning, after they survived Ryan Zimmerman’s looping misfire in the eighth and after a rally fizzled in the ninth.

Once there, they dropped to 2-8 in extra-inning games. The Nationals own one of the best bullpens in the majors, but they haven’t hit once the game passes the ninth inning. In 108 extra-inning plate appearances, the Nationals have batted .184 with eight walks, two homers and 28 strikeouts. The only hit they mustered Monday in two innings against Baltimore’s dog-tired bullpen — which threw 130 pitches Sunday in Boston — was Rendon’s two-out single in the 10th.

The Nationals had few explanations for their extra-inning woes. Stammen said, “it’ll even out,” and typically a team’s extra-innings record does skew toward .500. Williams said the Nationals’ offense had been quieted by “specialty pitchers” who create difficult matchups. Rendon said the Nationals need to score more runs than the other team, which is surely a foolproof solution.

Drew Storen’s scoreless 10th inning led to the 11th, when the usually reliable Stammen jogged in from right field. He carried a “driving range slider,” he said — great in the bullpen, useless in the game.

Against Davis, the second hitter he faced, Stammen used two fastballs to move ahead, 0-2. He stayed with his fastball as Davis took close pitches and fouled one off until the count ran full. Stammen thought two pitches, particularly an inside fastball, could have been strike three.

“He made some really close pitches on Davis,” Williams said. “We looked at them. They were close, but they were off the plate.”

On the 3-2 pitch, Stammen fired a 92-mph sinking fastball away, confident Davis wouldn’t be able to lift it for a home run. It was higher than he wanted, but Stammen still assumed he would be safe. Davis smashed it off the facade of the upper deck in right-center field, and the Orioles moved ahead, 4-2.

“I really did not think he would be able to hit that pitch out,” Stammen said. “But he was right on it and he was looking for it.”

Without his slider, Stammen endured a shellacking. J.J. Hardy crushed another home run. Manny Machado finalized the 11th-inning beating with a two-run homer off Aaron Barrett, his fifth hit of the night.

The action that forced extra innings carried far more drama than what happened in them. The two-run homer by Rendon, who can still make the all-star team through the five-player final vote, was the only damage the Nationals mustered against Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman.

Stephen Strasburg struck out nine and walked none over seven innings, yielding only four hits — three to Machado, and a two-run homer in the fourth to Nelson Cruz. “I don’t know how anybody hits that guy,” Tillman said. “I really don’t.” Williams lauded Strasburg for increasing his tempo, taking less time to think between pitches.

“Just trying not to analyze every pitch as much and just get into the flow of the game,” Strasburg said.

In the ninth, Zimmerman — who drove home the decisive run in Sunday’s victory against the Cubs — slammed a one-out double off the right field wall. Showalter set up the double play by walking scuffling Bryce Harper so submariner Darren O’Day could pitch to Ian Desmond, who walked to the plate 11 for 17 in his career after an intentional walk directly in front of him. O’Day validated the move when he struck out both Desmond and Wilson Ramos, sending the game to extra innings.

As the Orioles batted in the top of the eighth inning, dueling, deafening chants — “Let’s Go O’s!” versus “Let’s Go Nats!” — sprang organically from the seats. On the field loomed the more dramatic conflict of Zimmerman vs. his battered, arthritic shoulder.

Two singles placed Tyler Clippard in a jam, runners on first and second with one out. He induced a grounder to third from Machado. Zimmerman scooped the ball, stepped on third base and side-armed a throw across the diamond, the throw that could end the inning.

The ball Frisbeed out of his hand and veered about 15 feet to Adam LaRoche’s left. LaRoche shuffled off first base to catch the ball. The inning continued, and a question waited in the manager’s office: How much longer should the Nationals tempt fate with Zimmerman’s balky shoulder at third base in order to give them their best offensive lineup?

“He gets the ball and he’s going away from first base. I’m not worried about it,” Williams said. “He made plays all over the diamond tonight. I’m not concerned at all.”

Clippard minimized the harm from Zimmerman’s first poor throw since he moved back to third base a week ago. Adam Jones lofted his change-up down the left field line, and Harper ranged to make the catch. Clippard had bailed out Zimmerman and maintained the tie score. Zimmerman returned to the dugout, leaned on the railing and chewed his fingernails.

Strasburg threw only one pitch he could regret. In the fourth, he attempted to rifle a 1-0, 95-mph fastball over the outside corner to Cruz, the major league leader in home runs. Cruz lashed the pitch with his powerful, uppercut swing to right field. The ball hissed over the scoreboard, a line drive into the first row.

The orange-clad portion of the crowd erupted and bellowed, “Cruuuuz.” By the time Cruz touched home plate and celebrated his 28th homer by pointing to the sky, the chant had changed to “Let’s Go O’s!”

“You can’t really worry about it too much,” Strasburg said. “Hopefully our fans travel well after tomorrow.”

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