Danny Espinosa played hero with a monstrous, game-tying solo home run off of Craig Kimbrel in the bottom of the ninth. But the Nationals’ defense betrayed Tom Gorzelanny in the 11th. Paul Janish’s no-out, bloop single scored Dan Uggla, who had reached second on Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing error and moved to third on a passed ball by backup catcher Sandy Leon. Add it up, and the Nationals suffered their largest blown lead ever.
“This is probably the worst game I’ve ever managed in my life,” Manager Davey Johnson said, harping on his handling of the bullpen. “There’s a few things I’d take back. I don’t even want to go there. But that’s my part of the game. Obviously, when they score 10 runs, that’s my fault. There’s a lot of little things. I don’t want to go there. I’ve got to live with it.”
The Nationals could have taken a 4½ game lead in the division standings and guaranteed finishing their four-games-in-three-days series in first place. They will show up for Saturday’s doubleheader with a 2½-game lead, a worn bullpen and shot nerves. Disasters could once be cast aside as a byproduct of bad baseball. Now, they eat at your stomach like a promise broken.
“It hurts. It hurts bad,” Clippard said. “We’ve got to win that game. Bottom line. It’s a frustrating loss. Big game. Nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to move on.”
Afterward, General Manager Mike Rizzo paced through a silent clubhouse, forcing a smile. “Is this a funeral?” he asked. “Did somebody die? We’re in first.”
In the eighth, Drew Storen allowed both hitters he faced to reach base. Johnson immediately called on Sean Burnett to quell the rally, but on a messy, rain-soaked night he yielded two walks and two hits with two outs. Suddenly, after RBI hits from Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman, a blowout had turned into a one-run nail-biter.
The disaster continued in the ninth. Clippard walked Uggla on five pitches, threw a wild pitch through Leon’s legs and then hit Janish as he tried to sacrifice bunt. Pitching coach Steve McCatty trudged to the mound with no outs and two men on base, trying to calm his closer.
Clippard started light-hitting David Ross with two balls, trying to fix the footing on the mound between pitches. He came back to strike out Ross after a generous call on a 3-1 fastball. Michael Bourn sealed Clippard’s demise when he clobbered a triple off the scoreboard in right-center. Uggla and Janish raced home as Michael Morse tracked down the ball, and shocked settled over the stadium.