The Nationals’ manager would soon stomp back to the dugout, arms flailing, ejected for the first time this season and about to absorb the second of two moments that breathed a small measure of life into the race for the National League East. The Braves followed a blown call with Jason Heyward’s two-run, game-tying homer off Edwin Jackson, the turning point of the Nationals’ 5-4 loss at Turner Field.
The Braves sliced Washington’s lead to 61
2 games with one more showdown looming Sunday night. The Nationals still hold a commanding edge with 17 games to play. But they could have all but stamped out the Braves’ chances Saturday, if they had held a four-run lead and if not for an eighth-inning implosion by reliever Ryan Mattheus.
Mattheus faced five batters in the eighth inning, and he allowed a hit and two walks before he forced in the winning run with a fastball that grazed Andrelton Simmons’s jersey. But the game swung long before Mattheus even entered, on a call that could linger if the Nationals do not secure a few wins in the near future.
“Winning this series makes [the Braves winning the East] more realistic,” Heyward said. “Our mind-set is to go after the division until you can’t.”
The Nationals took a four-run lead into the bottom of the second inning, paced by Adam LaRoche’s 30th homer and sloppy defense from the Braves. Jackson cruised along despite a few rough patches, and after five the Nationals led by two.
Leading off the sixth inning, Martin Prado ripped a one-hopper up the middle. Jackson knocked it down with his glove, scampered to his right and fired to first base. LaRoche stretched, and the throw arrived in time. But first base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled LaRoche had come off the bag and called Prado safe. Replays showed LaRoche had stayed on. LaRoche did not need to see them.
“I was sure,” LaRoche said. “For whatever reason, he couldn’t tell. He couldn’t see it. It cost us a big run.”
Jackson immediately pointed at the base and screamed. Johnson came scuttling out of the dugout and screamed in Hudson’s face. Johnson demanded Hudson appeal the call with home plate umpire Marty Foster. Hudson refused. Johnson argued until Hudson threw him out. The Nationals manager swung his arm in return, as if to feign ejecting the umpire.
“If I can see it from 150 feet that the throw beats him, and he’s on the bag and he was out of position, I wanted him to get help,” Johnson said. “Those are critical points in games. I’ve got old eyes and I can see that. He’s a good umpire. I felt like the object is to just get this right. We don’t need to give them a little added momentum here. Get some help. I probably overreacted, but it was really a critical point in the ballgame. My pitcher pitched a heck of a ballgame. We had a lead. We don’t need to give them any gifts.”