By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008
The final attempt at resuscitation ended on Felipe López's groundout to third baseman Augie Ojeda, a stunningly anticlimactic conclusion to the Washington Nationals' tale of rebirth, then ultimate fall, last night.
The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Nationals, 7-5, in 11 innings at Nationals Park, and the scattered remainders of the 27,330 in attendance saw their downtrodden club persevere in the late innings before succumbing. Washington overcame a two-run deficit in the ninth inning, then a three-run hole in the 10th before a final offensive surge delivered Arizona the victory.
"The fight is in them," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "Even on the last road trip, when we only won one game . . . these guys, the fight is in them.
"We could have just as easily rolled over and played dead."
Arizona prevailed by tagging reliever Luis Ayala with two runs in the 11th inning, but Washington's effort during the ninth and 10th was the lasting memory.
For the game's first eight innings, Washington's batters shuffled back to the dugout without much of a fight, only able to muster two hits against Arizona starter Dan Haren. As the Nationals slinked toward what appeared to be another hapless effort, a smattering of fans in the top deck booed their team's inefficiency.
The ninth inning jolted life into Washington, however. After baiting López into an 0-2 count, Haren walked him on four consecutive balls. Then Kory Casto pulled a 91-mph fastball into the gap between the first and second basemen. That signaled the end of Haren's night, and Brandon Lyon came in for relief.
The rally continued. Cristian Guzmán singled to left on a a 94-mph fastball to load the bases. Austin Kearns followed with a grounder to third baseman Mark Reynolds, who mishandled the ball. López and pinch runner Willie Harris scored to tie the game at 2 as the crowd erupted.
Reynolds's uncomfortable inning wasn't finished. After Jesús Flores struck out, Wily Mo Peña hit a sharp grounder toward the third baseman, who again misplayed it for another error, again loading the bases. Roger Bernadina could have won it, but he smacked a 93-mph fastball to second baseman Orlando Hudson and angrily swung his helmet after he was thrown out.
Arizona answered with three runs in the 10th, thanks to four straight two-out base hits, but Washington refused to fold. Pete Orr crushed a 96-mph fastball to right field for a leadoff double off the Diamondbacks' Tony Peña. After López grounded out, Harris singled to center field, scoring Orr to make it 5-3. Guzmán then singled on a line drive that skipped past Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew. Kearns continued the comeback, doubling on a line drive to left field and scoring Harris and Guzmán to tie the score at 5. Kearns advanced on the throw home, and the Nationals had the potential winning run on third with one out.
"This game is an amazing game," Nationals relief pitcher Jon Rauch said. "I play it for that reason."
But with a second chance to snatch an improbable victory, this time against Chad Qualls, who replaced Peña, the Nationals fizzled again. After an intentional walk to Dmitri Young, Flores grounded to Reynolds, who threw home to get Kearns. Then Qualls induced Wily Mo Peña to ground out to second, sending the game to the 11th inning.
The Nationals wouldn't have had their late chances had starting pitcher Jason Bergmann not kept them close. He entered with a deceptive 1-6 record. Starting June 18, he made a string of four consecutive starts in which he didn't allow more than three runs.
Last night, he pitched seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs. Despite the solid performance, the defeat stung.
"I think everybody in this clubhouse would say that we would like to be winning more, and I think we've been in position to win, but it hasn't gone our way," Bergmann said.
It hasn't, but last night, the Nationals could at least point to their perseverance, if not a victory.