Tracy walloped a high flyball over the right field fence, a thunderbolt that served to overshadow an unavoidable subplot and illustrate the Nationals’ staggering propensity for spoiling their brightest moments. Tracy’s homer robbed John Lannan the chance to earn a victory against his former team and pushed the game into the bottom of the ninth. Domonic Brown’s two-out single off Fernando Abad — the minor league free agent Manager Davey Johnson had chosen to navigate a tie game — gave the Nationals a walk-off loss.
“We just can’t get anything going,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
Mid-June is no time to erect tombstones, but if it was, Zimmerman’s words would be etched across the Nationals’. They have lost three of their last four and, at 34-35, sat seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings when the game ended.
They entered the year World Series favorites in part because they let Lannan walk and signed free agent Dan Haren for $13 million. On Monday night, Haren allowed four runs in six innings, yielding three walks and seven hits, avoiding his ninth loss only because of Tracy’s homer. Lannan, making his first start against the franchise for which he twice started on opening day, allowed two runs in five innings.
“I knew I had to do a job no matter who I was facing,” Lannan said. “They have some good hitters over there, so I really had to bear down at times. But there was no extra emotion.”
The game would be decided after both Lannan and Haren exited. In the eighth, Ian Desmond ripped a two-out, RBI single up the middle. In the bottom half, Tyler Clippard struck out Laynce Nix with the bases loaded to keep it a one-run margin.
After two quick outs in the ninth, Papelbon seemed ready to slam the door all the way shut. He fired a 93-mph fastball over the inside corner, higher than he wanted and not far enough inside. Tracy turned and crushed it. John Mayberry Jr. trotted to the wall, only for posterity. The Nationals had tied the score at 4.
“I think all of us had a feeling,” Tracy said. “We expected to win, sure. You tie it up late and everybody’s emotions are running high and everybody’s feeling good.”
The homer provided Johnson with a choice: Who should pitch the ninth inning? On Friday, he had tabbed Abad in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, which led to a walk-off loss in Cleveland. Monday night, he again chose Abad, who had impressed this year after the Houston Astros released him this winter, over Drew Storen, who in 2011 recorded 43 saves.