“We could be 10 games out, but we got two more months. We got two more months of baseball, and if we play like we’re capable of playing, we will win this. We will do it. I know that for a fact because we have a great team and a great organization. And we have guys on this team that are unbelievable. We just need to keep going, keep grinding and do the things we need to do.”
Rousing statements did not appear necessary at the start. Denard Span walked, Harper roped a single and Ryan Zimmerman plugged the bases with a walk. Jayson Werth crunched a sac fly deep to right field, his NL-best 22nd RBI in July pushing the Nationals ahead, 1-0.
The Nationals let their rally go to rot as Adam LaRoche struck out for the first of three times Wednesday and Ian Desmond grounded to short. They would fumble more rallies but not score again. In 30 of their 108 games, including their last two, the Nationals have scored one or zero runs.
Has frustration started to seep in?
“No,” LaRoche said. “I mean, that was two months ago. We were scratching our heads two months ago trying to figure out what was going on. Again, we find it for a couple days, and then it’s gone.”
Gonzalez needed far more support. He had allowed nine earned runs over his previous six starts. On Wednesday, he allowed 10 runs on 10 hits. Gonzalez, for some reason, could not find comfort on the mound and struggled with his arm slot. His typically lethal curveball was flat and erratic, and he constantly pitched behind in the count.
“You’re bound to run into one hiccup,” Gonzalez said. “Just so happened to be against a good team. I faced some pretty good teams. This ain’t going to dictate who I am as a pitcher. I’m going to go out there and keep pitching how I pitch and try to get more wins for the team.”
Alex Avila bashed a two-run homer and Torii Hunter followed with a solo shot in a five-run second inning. The menacing Tigers lineup, even without Miguel Cabrera, battered Gonzalez with more subtlety in the fourth inning, ripping five straight singles. As the liners and flares fell, Gonzalez grew more agitated, standing on the mound rolling his head and throwing his hands in the air. Johnson showed mercy and lifted him after Victor Martinez’s single made it 9-1.
Johnson was not ready to declare the season a full-fledged wreck, even if a 4-9 record since the all-star break has left the Nationals’ division chances on life support. He and Harper could agree on that.
“We do have the talent,” Johnson said. “We’re not out of this thing. We’re still in this fight. I like the way our schedule is racking up the rest of the way. We can do similar to what the Dodgers did. I like my talent here, too.”