By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, July 24 -- On Thursday afternoon, Tim Redding, eight years and 115 starts into a big league career, took the mound, and that's where his arm did things it had never done before. Mastery introduced itself. Never before had Redding pitched a complete game, but here, he moved through the game like notes move along sheet music. Inning up, inning down, no runs. "A rhythm," Redding called it.
So rare is that feeling for a pitcher that when you get it, you cherish it. You enjoy it. You don't expect to find an equal kind of dominance staring right back at you -- the kind of mastery that equalizes, or worse, trumps your own. For Redding, that's what happened. His first career complete game, and his most fluid start of the season, only upheld one side of an enthralling pitcher's duel, a 1-0 Washington Nationals loss to San Francisco at AT&T Park.
Redding and Giants pitcher Matt Cain went zero for zero, building their game into a delicate drama, one decided by the late, fractional decisions that turn scoreless games into regretful losses. To that end, the Washington clubhouse finished this series regretting its lack of support on its pitcher's finest day.
Maybe Redding couldn't have changed the outcome. He didn't regret his approach in the eighth, when the Giants used a hit, a sacrifice bunt and a hit to crack the stalemate. That pitch he threw to Dave Roberts, who bounced the go-ahead RBI single just past a diving Cristian Guzmán? Redding put it right there, outside corner, just as he wanted. Ninety percent of the time, Redding later said, Roberts pops up that ball to shortstop or shallow left.
Of course, in a game like this, you regret every moment that seesaws against you. Washington had plenty, especially late. Maybe Ryan Zimmerman, batting in the ninth with one out and runners on second and third, needed to hit the ball just a few feet deeper to right to sacrifice the tying run. Maybe Willie Harris, standing on third, should have tried to score anyway, rather than charging 35 feet toward the plate, gauging right fielder Randy Winn's throw, and turning back. Or maybe the Nationals had no choice but to acknowledge Cain's dominance; along with Redding, he created a two-hour game comprising 60 batters and no walks. It was scoreless, scoreless, scoreless. And then the only run came quick as a paper cut.
For all its aesthetics, however, the defeat dealt Washington some indignity. The Nationals lost all seven games this year to San Francisco, a team that entered this series having lost nine of 10. In the clubhouse after the game, players lamented their inability to support Redding, who "pitched well enough to get three wins today, I think," Harris said. Indeed, before Thursday, Redding averaged 5 2/3 innings per start this season. Not since Opening Day had he lasted seven. Though always solid, he rarely dazzled.
Pitchers often say they have their best stuff once in every five starts; every other time, they fight imprecision or arm aches or something even harder to pinpoint. This time, Redding fought nothing. His pitches hugged the low part of the strike zone. With runners on first and third in the third inning, he struck out Winn with a down-and-away curve, a pitch few bats can solve. He finished the fifth with just 56 pitches. In the sixth, he struck out two more looking, the latter his eighth out in a row.
"This was, what, my 22nd start?" Redding (7-5) asked later. "Well, out of 22 starts, this was number one."
He felt that on today?
"Yeah," Redding said. "I felt like I could throw whatever Johnny [Estrada] called. I only shook him off once."
Cain carried San Francisco into the ninth with just as much style, having faced only two batters more than the minimum. Before finishing the ninth, he allowed Washington's chances to crest. With one out, Harris singled; then Guzmán doubled. Zimmerman, three games into his return from a left shoulder injury, had the chance to give Redding a win. "That's the guy I want up there," Manager Manny Acta said.
Though first base was open, Cain pitched to the Nationals' No. 3 hitter. After one strike, Zimmerman lofted a fly to shallow right. Winn charged, caught the ball and zipped a throw home. The ball tailed several feet toward the third base side. It didn't matter. Harris had already stopped. Acta later called it the smart play, especially with Austin Kearns -- who flied out to end the game -- due up next.
"You can't take a chance," he said. "That ball is too shallow."
"We knew that Winn's arm is not that great, but it was a situation where I was going to continue to go if it had been a high throw or off line or something like that," Harris said. "But I didn't have the intent of trying to score right there. I was just trying to put some pressure on him to make a good throw, and he did."