The Nationals scored their lone run Friday in the fourth inning with a sudden two-out rally. LaRoche drew a walk. Tyler Moore, starting in place of Jayson Werth, lined a single to center fielder. Danny Espinosa rolled a single through the right side, enough to score LaRoche from second before Moore was thrown out trying to go from first to third.
Detwiler operated with the score tied as the game churned into the fifth. Starling Marte singled with two outs, a seemingly harmless hit, just the fourth Detwiler had allowed all game. With Mercer at the plate, Marte bolted for second on Detwiler’s first move. Rather than throwing plateward, though, Detwiler extended his right leg and threw to LaRoche. They had Marte trapped.
LaRoche stepped forward to give himself a better angle as he brought the ball out of his glove. But he never gripped the ball, and he never threw it. Marte slid in, safe, and the inning continued.
“I knew with a high, slow leg kick on that particular pick off, I knew I had one shot,” LaRoche said. “Catch it, snap throw hard, try to make the throw. I just wanted to get it, and I couldn’t find it.”
Still, Detwiler needed only to handle Mercer. The Pirates had called him up from Class AAA Indianapolis on Friday afternoon to replace usual starter Neil Walker. Mercer, 26, had hit 42 home runs in 2,247 career minor league plate appearances.
“I looked at who I had at the plate and thought I had a good chance if I could just get ahead of him,” Detwiler said.
Detwiler, though, fell behind with two balls. He tried to get back into the count with a fastball over the outside corner, but he mistakenly “cut” the pitch, and it tailed back over the plate. Mercer pummeled it over the fence in left field.
“A professional hitter hit a home run,” Detwiler said. “That’s what he’s paid to do.”
McCutchen had given Detwiler his first trouble with an upper-deck, solo home run in the first inning. The outfielder constitutes one of baseball’s brightest talents. He is not the greatest player who ever picked up a bat, but how many Nationals fans could be convinced otherwise? In 24 career games against Washington, McCutchen has hit 11 homers with a .456 batting average.
“He’s not going to hit a home run every time,” Detwiler said. “It seems like against us, he does.”
The Nationals could have overcome McCutchen’s blow. If and when their offense clicks, they will have the leeway for a ball to get stuck in a glove. On nights like Friday, though, it can mean the difference between a victory and another loss.
“Fun game,” LaRoche said. “Isn’t it?”