Instead, he handed them a 4-1 lead after seven. Clippard did not last one inning. He walked in a run in a 35-pitch, three-walk horror show of an eighth inning.
“My stuff’s good,” Clippard said. “I’ve been feeling really good as far as that’s concerned. Just the execution wasn’t there. My changeup was nonexistent tonight. I wasn’t able to put that where I want to, and that hasn’t happened in a long time. That was frustrating.”
Storen bailed out his former roommate — barely — when Dan Uggla’s 385-foot flyball settled into Denard Span’s glove on the edge of the center field warning track, leaving the bases loaded.
Storen escaped the eighth. He was not as fortunate in the ninth.
Chris Johnson greeted him with a line-drive single to center. Pena dropped a perfectly placed, surprise bunt single toward third base. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position with one out. Storen struck out Andrelton Simmons, but Jason Heyward drew a walk, filling the bases for Justin Upton.
Upton chopped a grounder down the third base line, a seemingly harmless play, a potential game-ender. Zimmerman backed up to backhand the ball and, in an instant, surveyed his options.
He could have thrown all the way across the diamond, fired to second to nab Heyward or held the ball and give Storen another chance for the third out.
“Obviously, first base is out of the question,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not gonna beat the guy to third. I thought if I turn and make a perfect throw, I had a chance to get the guy bang-bang at second. Obviously, Heyward’s fast. It’s really tough as a competitor to just catch the ball and throw it back to Drew and just have the bases loaded. In hindsight, obviously that would have been the better play.”
Zimmerman turned and fired to second. Espinosa was still scurrying from where he began the play, stationed on the outfield grass. Espinosa arrived at the base at the same time Zimmerman’s throw skipped past him into right field. Even if Zimmerman’s throw had been on the money, it appeared Heyward would have been safe. Both Johnson and Pena scored, tying the game at 4.
“It’s easy to go back and look at that now, obviously,” Zimmerman said. “In the moment, I thought I should give it a shot. It didn’t work out too well. . . . It wasn’t a terrible throw. It just needed to be perfect.”
The late-game execution was far from perfect. Clippard, Storen and Stammen combined to walk five of the 19 batters they faced.
“That’s one of the things about being a bullpen that makes us special down there is that we have short memories and we understand that it’s a long season,” Storen said. “We’re going to swallow that, learn from it, and move on.”
The Nationals have little choice. They would report back to Nationals Park less than 12 hours after leaving, ready to face the Braves again, hoping Stephen Strasburg could outduel Tim Hudson. After 10 games, they have no need to panic. They do need to learn from what has gone wrong, even in the midst of a 7-3 start.
“Let’s get back out there,” Johnson said.