A reporter pointed out to Werth that the story did not come off as a ringing endorsement of the Nationals’ chances to make something of this season.
“It’s not over, you know?” Werth said. “We’re not there yet. And even when you get to that point, it’s not like you’re going to give up. As long as there’s a pitcher on the mound and I’m in the lineup, I’m going to give it the best effort. Right now it’s just, it’s not lining up for us.”
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Their finale against the Braves fell apart in the eighth, immediately after the Nationals had tied it at 3 on Ian Desmond’s RBI fielder’s choice. Clippard did not pitch Tuesday. But Johnson struck with Mattheus, who had recorded the final out of the seventh.
Mattheus retired the first two batters he faced, then threw Andrelton Simmons a slider. Simmons drilled a double to left-center. Pinch hitter Joey Terdoslavich walked. With two outs and Jason Heyward coming to the plate, both Krol and Clippard were warming up. Johnson chose Krol, he said, because Heyward was 5 for 8 in his career against Clippard.
Krol jumped ahead of Heyward with two strikes. He tried to finish Heyward off with a curveball, but the pitch caught too much of the plate. Heyward hooked it into right field, and Simmons sped home with the go-ahead run.
Up came Upton. In the seventh inning, the Braves’ best right-handed hitter had faced lefty Fernando Abad and drilled a go-ahead home run. Now, Johnson let Upton face another lefty in Krol. “I’m not going to bring [Clippard] in down a run,” Johnson said. Upton unloaded on an 0-1 change-up, belting a double to left field. Another two runs crossed, and the Braves’ fans filling the park erupted.
The two-run homer Werth punctuated with an exaggerated bat flip, and the two scoreless innings Tanner Roark provided in his major league debut had been made moot. The Nationals would load the bases and force closer Craig Kimbrel to throw 36 pitches in the ninth, a rally sparked by Harper’s double off a 3-2, 98-mph fastball. The rally died when Wilson Ramos smashed a line drive to right, right at Heyward.
The Nationals could not surmount the Braves, and the possibility of a season gone bust had nearly turned into a reality.