By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Garrett Mock threw five more pitches in the first inning after giving up a two-out, two-run double to David Murphy last night. Five innings later, Mock was pulled from his second major league start with his team trailing by one and his psyche whispering, "What if."
The Nationals would proceed to drop a 13-3 decision to the Texas Rangers, a loss that provided symmetrical balance to the previous night's victory. The starter could not fully shake off a disastrous beginning. The bullpen could not hold firm against one of the most potent offenses in baseball.
The way Mock sees it, the game could have unfurled in a much different manner had he just delivered one pitch differently. Facing Murphy with a 2-1 count and two men on, Mock tossed a fastball, hoping to catch the batter off-guard. To that point in the at-bat, Mock had offered breaking balls, had offered them quite well.
Murphy drove the ball to right field, proving Mock's strategy inept. "That changed the whole complexion of the game," Mock said. "If I get him out, my team doesn't have to scratch and claw for runs, and it saves me . . . pitches. Maybe then I go out for the seventh."
But he did not get Murphy out. And he did not go out for the seventh. Instead, the Nationals' bullpen, which had performed so admirably the night before, imploded.
Mock gave way to Charlie Manning after six innings -- just as Tim Redding had done the night before -- but the similarities between the two contests ended there. Manning gave up three runs in one-third of an inning. Brian Sanches, who played no part in Friday night's effort, followed and allowed four runs in one-third of an inning of his own.
Following the game, the Nationals optioned Mock and Sanches to Class AAA Columbus and called up infielder Pete Orr and right-hander Steve Shell. Mock knew his stay in the District would be short. Sanches, whose ERA rose to 7.36 with his outing, probably knew what was coming, as well.
Standing in front of what would soon become his former locker, Sanches took blame for the Rangers' seven-run seventh inning, though he was in no way fully responsible. "Definitely, after a night like last night, we wanted to build on that as a team," he said. "The bottom line was that I didn't do my job."
Neither did Elijah Dukes, or the rest of the Nationals' batting order, for that matter. Dukes was the hero of Friday night's 4-3, 14-inning triumph. He recorded a career-high five hits and drove in the winning run. Last night, he went 0 for 5 with a strikeout.
With the three-run hole in which the Nationals found themselves after the first inning, the team needed Dukes and Co. to provide assurance while Mock settled down.
On Friday, Manny Acta said he expected Mock's performance to improve, in part because the young right-hander would not be dealing with extreme heat. Mock lasted 4 1/3 innings June 8 against San Francisco, allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks. With temperatures soaring into the upper 90s during that game, Mock fatigued quickly and his effectiveness diminished once he entered the fifth inning.
There was no oppressive heat bearing down on Nationals Park last night, however. At first pitch, the temperature was 83. At second pitch, the score was 1-0, Texas. Ian Kinsler drove a 91-mph fastball from Mock deep to left field. Wily Mo Peña ranged back and extended his glove, only to have the ball bounce off the top of his mitt and over the fence.
Mock allowed one more run in the fourth but retired the final eight batters he faced. He departed the game after six innings, having given up four runs on eight hits and one walk. He recorded eight strikeouts.
The terms of Mock's stay on the big league club were exactly the same last night as they were when he made his debut two weeks earlier: No matter how he pitched, he would be sent back down to the minors at night's end.
General Manager Jim Bowden said the team expects Odalis Pérez to make his next scheduled start. Pérez, who has been on the disabled list since June 14 with left shoulder tendinitis, made a start last night for Class A Potomac. He threw 56 pitches in four innings, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
But Pérez's arrival would have to wait. One night after a thrilling victory, the Nationals had something more somber to digest.
"I like to think of baseball like boxing," Manager Manny Acta said. "If I don't hit you, you're going to hit me."