Thursday's Late Game

Rockies Finish Off Three-Game Sweep of Nationals

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

This week, the Washington Nationals have devised a good half-dozen ways to boost their esteem. They have sold $1 tickets, signed a $15.1 million pitcher, introduced a general manager and planned a celebratory, open-to-the-public Stephen Strasburg news conference.

All week, only one thing has interrupted the exaltation: the games. The Nationals keep losing. They've now dropped three straight. And though the games this week have taken a background role to larger, franchise-shaping decisions, the nightly results -- including the latest, a 4-1 loss to Colorado at Nationals Park on Thursday -- remain out of sync with the high spirits at 1500 South Capitol Street.

In this game, an encouraging start by Garrett Mock (five innings, three hits, two runs, eight strikeouts) was undercut by another sleepy night for Washington's offense, which scored only eight runs this series.

But it was the two critical runs Colorado scored in the fifth inning that lent a special reminder to the 18,036 in attendance that fortune still hasn't found its way to the field. Mock -- pitching with authority, using change-ups and breaking pitches in dangerous counts, dominating Colorado's hitters -- nearly was out of the fifth inning, too, no problem. Sure, runners were on first and second, the result of a walk and a single, but then Mock used a dipping 1-2 change-up to whiff Carlos González.

Inning over, Mock pumped his fist and walked off the field.

MASN2 cut to a commercial.

As Washington's players headed for the dugout, however, second base umpire Doug Eddings pointed emphatically to the ground, indicating that González had foul-tipped the pitch. Though interim manager Jim Riggleman emerged on the field to protest, thinking catcher Josh Bard had caught the tip, Eddings ruled that the ball had first hit the dirt.

"I don't know how Dougie saw that play," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "I guess he was eating his carrots tonight."

"Yeah, that was a big play," Riggleman said. "They got the call right, that's the bottom line. The ball hit the dirt. It's unfortunate."

Mock returned to the mound, González returned to the box, and MASN2 cut short its ad for boneless chicken wings.

Mock, at that point, had thrown 88 pitches -- a mostly sterling effort. He had retired the game's first 10 hitters. But his 89th pitch tipped the game to Colorado.

González, with the count again 1-2, hit a dead-bird bloop to shallow left field, just several feet beyond the range of hustling shortstop Cristian Guzmán. The ball dropped in. Clint Barmes, who had walked with one out, scored from second. And when Mock threw a wild pitch to the next hitter, Yorvit Torrealba trotted in from third to give Colorado its second run.

"I didn't get rattled at all," Mock said. "The one thing I didn't like was [the wild pitch]. There wasn't a need to throw that ball that far outside."

When Mock finally retired the side, Nationals Park, with a round of boos, reiterated its displeasure.

Had Washington been able to produce some runs, the ruling in the top of the fifth wouldn't have been such an obstacle. But the Nationals couldn't put much together against Colorado starter Jason Hammel. They couldn't score because they couldn't reach base, and they couldn't reach base because they couldn't grind out at-bats for longer than, oh, about two pitches.

Hammel, teaming with Mock to retire the first 20 hitters of the game (counting both teams), worked through the first three innings with just 24 pitches. In his seven innings (85 pitches), Hammel gave up only three hits, including an RBI double to Adam Dunn in the sixth that accounted for Washington's only run.

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