Washington Nationals have home run by Adam Dunn overturned by replay, lose to San Francisco Giants, 5-4

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO -- In close games, the kind the Washington Nationals specialize in, the randomness of chance often determines the outcome as much as the teams on the field. A bloop will drop. A fly ball will fall inches short and turn from a home run into a double. The bounces don't care which team they help.

"It's bear hunting," reliever Tyler Walker said. "Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you."

The Nationals know too well how easily one-run games can turn, and they learned anew Thursday afternoon in a 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants before 28,251 at AT&T Park. They had control of the game, and the series, for most of the afternoon. But a home run turned into a double, a few bloops turned into singles, and a win turned into a loss.

But as they packed for San Diego, the Nationals understood they couldn't blame only misfortune. The three-run, seventh-inning rally the Giants used to erase a two-run Nationals lead started with an error by Adam Dunn. It culminated with a clean, two-RBI single by Freddy Sanchez off of Walker.

They also understood they have too often left themselves susceptible to chance. They had a chance to build an insurmountable lead, but they scored just one run after they loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. The flameout represented a larger, important trend.

In May, the Nationals have scored 4.3 runs per game, 18th in the majors. They have gone 11-14 in those games, but nine of those losses have come by two runs or one. The Nationals are pitching and playing well enough to give themselves a chance. They aren't scoring enough to runs to ensure victories and eliminate chance.

"You play close games, one little mistake like what I did in the seventh, it costs us the game," Dunn said. "Offensively, we need to step it up and put people away when we have the opportunity to do that. And we're not doing that."

The Nationals have played 17 one-run games this year, tied for fourth most in the major leagues. On Thursday, they lost their seventh and fell back to .500, losing a chance to creep to within 2 1/2 games of first place in a muddled division.

The Nationals nearly separated themselves from the Giants enough not to have to worry about late-inning drama. With Justin Maxwell on first base in the seventh inning, Dunn crushed a ball high to right field, long enough, he thought, to be a home run. It slammed off something on the wall and bounded back to the outfield. The Nationals thought Dunn had his second homer of the day. The umpires declared the ball in play.

The crew retreated under the stands behind home plate and looked at a replay. They decided the ball had, in fact, caromed off the concrete top of the wall and not the bleachers. It was a double, and Dunn and Maxwell had to stay on second and third. After Ryan Zimmerman was intentionally walked, Josh Willingham drove home Maxwell with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2, but the Nats had missed taking a 5-2 lead by inches.

The Giants made the Nationals' flight to San Diego a little longer with three runs in the bottom of the inning. John Bowker led off against Craig Stammen -- who allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings -- by grounding a sinker to the right side. Dunn made a backhanded attempt, but the ball squirted by him and into the outfield, officially an error.

"I thought that the ball was hit harder than it was," Dunn said. "I had more time than I thought I did."

Stammen exited with one out, Bowker on third because of a passed ball and a grounder. In came Sean Burnett. He faced two hitters and, really, deserved two outs. Instead, he surrendered an RBI single to center by Nate Schierholtz, who stuck out his bat and knocked a soft liner to center. "He did his job," Burnett said. Andres Torres followed with a broken-bat bleeder to right, half the bat flying into the netting behind home plate.

Walker, once the Giants' closer, jogged in from the bullpen along the left field line, men on second and third, ahead by a run. "If you don't want the ball in that circumstance, you shouldn't be here," Walker said. "I wanted the ball."

Walker had struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings, and with Freddy Sanchez at the plate the Nationals needed one. Walker fell behind 2-0 and fed Sanchez a fastball. He tried to throw it down and away, but it stayed over the middle. Sanchez turned on it and ripped a groundball through the left side, scoring both runs and giving the Giants a 5-4 lead.

In the first inning, Dunn, the only left-handed batter in the starting lineup against lefty Barry Zito, launched the first pitch he saw over the right field fence. When Dunn puts the first pitch into play this season, he is 9 for 19 with two home runs on three doubles.

Josh Willingham added to the Nationals' edge against Zito in the second with a leadoff home run, his ninth homer this season. After the home run, he had a .590 on-base percentage in his past eight games.

The Nationals had control, and then they found again how fleeting that can be.

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