That was just one of a half-dozen crucial Nats mistakes in fundamentals — such asGio Gonzalez being a step slow to cover first base — that turned a likely win into a jaw-grinding unnecessary loss. “My ears are deaf from hearing [pitching coach Steve] McCatty yelling, ‘Get over,’ ” said Manager Davey Johnson of the inning-opening lapse by Gonzalez that ignited Atlanta’s two-run game-winning rally.
When you’re in first place, as the Nats still are, baseball changes. Gaps in ability shrink. You are your habits, perhaps even more than your talents.
This glistening afternoon before 38,046 shouldn’t have produced a loss. Steve Lombardozzi and Harper became the first rookies to hit back-to-back home runs to lead off a game in the modern major league era, since 1900, according to Elias Sports Bureau. And on consecutive pitches, too. Fully formed teams don’t get shut out for nine innings after such a start. But mature is what the Nats want to become, not what they are.
“The ingredients are there,” said Johnson. “We’re not a unit yet.”
Coming after Stephen Strasburg’s hint-of-Koufax game on Saturday, the Nats seemed poised for a two-game sweep behind Gonzalez, who leads MLB in strikeouts. But poised is what they weren’t.
Early in the year, the Nats often got away with mistakes. Now they’re in the midst of playing the best of the AL East and NL East — all teams with winning records — for 32 games in a row. So far they’re 7-7, but face six more series against teams that take advantage of minor mistakes.
For two days, the reunited heart of the Nats order, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and rusty Mike Morse, has been overanxious and unproductive. Just when there are more shoulders to lift, they grunt too hard.
Even when Atlanta tried to be helpful, walking the first two hitters in the eighth inning, Zimmerman, a graybeard of 26, ignored the first tenet of situational hitting: Think — what is the situation?
“Zim was over-aggressive early in the count. Drive it out of the park,” said Johnson, “instead of using the whole field, like he’s usually so good at.”
Instead of an opposite field hit that might have tied the game and moved Harper to third base, Zimmerman fell behind 0-2 and grounded into his eighth double play. Zimmerman just stinks right now. Actually, those were his exact postgame words and not long after showering, too.
The Nats admit their mistakes but repeat them too much, nonetheless.