The Nationals trailed, 7-0, by the end of two innings as the Rockies pummeled starter Edwin Jackson. After 41
2 innings, they had come all the way back and tied the game at 9. But reliever Tom Gorzelanny was defenseless against Coors Field, and even after Harper delivered the biggest homer of his short career, the Nationals sulked off the field.
The series brought a confidence boost to Washington’s offense and a letdown in the standings. Before Tuesday, the Nationals (43-31) had scored 25 runs in 10 games. They have scored 33 in their last three. And yet, they still managed only a split of their four-game series against the woeful Rockies (29-46), one of three teams yet to reach 30 wins. They head to Atlanta for three games against the second-place Braves with a bullpen that on Thursday churned through five pitchers in eight innings.
“That was a tough one,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “They kind of beat us up. That’s the bad news. We’re going to be a little short-handed tomorrow. Just a tough loss.”
Both teams failed to score over three innings — a remarkable feat in this series — before Harper led off the ninth against Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, the Nationals trailing 10-9. He worked the count to 1-1, and Betancourt threw him a slider over the plate.
Harper unleashed his vicious swing There was no doubt, only a hush. The ball banged off the back wall of the Rockies’ bullpen in right field, a few feet shy of the upper deck. The Nationals had tied the game.
The home run provided Harper relief in a difficult series in which he went 5 for 20 with seven strikeouts and no walks.
“The whole series, they’ve been pitching me out, out, out, out, out, out,” Harper said. “They didn’t throw me one strike the whole series. They got some questionable calls from the ump, I thought, but whatever. I don’t care. I got a pitch over the plate, drove it, 10-10 ballgame.”
In his past 13 games, Harper has struck out 17 times while walking four times, hitting .222 over the span. He knows the umpires are not the only reason. He chased pitches out of the strike zone, especially away. In Harper’s final at-bat Thursday, Adam Ottavino struck him out on a breaking ball near his feet. Harper pirouetted on one foot as he finished his hack.
“It’s a little tough right now,” Harper said. “But I’ll grow and I’ll get older, and they won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ll take my walks.”
Jackson suffered a molecular-level implosion at the start. The first eight Rockies to bat reached base. Tyler Colvin smashed a three-run homer to right field, the biggest blow in a five-run inning. Jackson’s fastball zipped mostly at 89 to 91 mph in the inning, about four mph slower than his season average. In his previous start, too, even as he allowed one run over 61
3 innings, Jackson’s fastball was a tick or two below its norm.
Johnson noticed Jackson’s drop in velocity, but he did not consider it a red flag. “I’m not hurt or anything,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel any pain or nothing like that. Normally there’s a period throughout the season where you don’t necessarily feel like the ball’s exploding out of your hand. But you just have to go out and pitch. It’s definitely not an excuse for anything.”
Jackson entered with a 15.75 ERA at Coors Field, and Thursday’s game offered no solutions. His fastballs stayed up in the zone and his slider was flat.
“It was pretty much everything,” catcher Jesus Flores said. “He was up in the zone and his pitches weren’t like as sharp as usual, and I think they just take advantage of it.”
Jackson gave up a leadoff single in the fourth, which Johnson took as a sign he was finished. As Johnson trudged to the mound to take the ball, Jackson spun on the rubber.
“Had you performed better you don’t have to come out in that situation,” Jackson said. “One dictates the other. . . . It was just a terrible job of keeping the ball down in the zone and getting ahead in the count. We did a great job of battling back, but I still feel like that loss is on me.”
After Gorzelanny allowed the inherited runner to score, Jackson had allowed eight runs on 10 hits and two walks in three innings. He had not allowed more than three earned runs in nine consecutive starts, but his ERA on Thursday rose from 2.91 to 3.57.
In the high altitude, the Nationals roared back. They scored five runs in the third when Ryan Zimmerman rolled a two-RBI single and Michael Morse — who went 9 for 19 in the series — pounded a three-run homer to center.
Ian Desmond continued his last-minute all-star push by hitting a game-tying, two-run home run off his sister’s husband, right-handed reliever Josh Roenicke, in the fifth inning. As he came to bat, Desmond said, he was thinking, “Go deep.”
“Because he was my brother-in-law,” Desmond said.
In the bottom of the 11th, Jonathan Herrera smoked a double to left-center field with one out. After a walk and a flyout, up came Scutaro. He was in the lineup for the first time since getting hit in the head Monday by Stephen Strasburg’s wayward fastball Monday. He flared a 2-2 fastball into shallow right-center field. Stammen stared toward the fence for a moment before he turned and walked off the field, eyes on the turf.
The Nationals followed him, all those runs scored and not a series win to show for it.