Washington Nationals lose to Florida Marlins, 6-5
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 10:22 PM
On Sunday afternoon, playing beneath a gunmetal gray sky, with a performance their manager refused to let pass without reprimand, the Washington Nationals skidded to one of the lower moments of their season. They made errors and fell behind. They scraped back against the Florida Marlins, an opponent fast becoming a nemesis. And then, like they usually do, they found a way to lose - the final 13 men who stepped to the plate failed to reach base.
The day after they mathematically guaranteed another losing season, the Nationals absorbed another defeat and a series sweep at the hands of the Marlins, a 6-5 loss at Nationals Park before an announced crowd of 16,788. They completed their penultimate homestand with a five-game losing streak, a span of baseball Manager Jim Riggleman decided he needed to address.
After the game, before the Nationals could dress and pack for their flight to Atlanta, Riggleman spoke with the team and instructed all his coaches to do the same. His voice, he figured, the players had heard enough. Riggleman wanted them to know he was not alone in dissatisfaction.
"Sometimes, when the same person keeps giving the message, it starts to fall on deaf ears," Riggleman said. "It kind of confirms what I thought I was watching there for a couple innings. When every coach gets to speak up and confirm it, it's not coming from the same person.
"I just thought our energy level, our body language early in the game was not up to the standards it's going to take for us to be a ball club that goes to the next level. I just didn't feel like that we were getting after it early. . . . If anybody in the room thought that was acceptable, then they need to be made aware that we certainly don't think it's acceptable."
With 19 games remaining and six games against National League East leaders Atlanta and Philadelphia looming, the Nationals reached, in terms of their record, a new low point. They have 23 more losses than wins for the first time this season and can no longer claim a winning record at home - they're now 35-36 at Nationals Park.
Having won 60 games, the Nationals have already surpassed their victory total from last year. But, for the bulk of their season, they have played at a similar pace. On May 15, the Nationals reached 20-15, their best record of the year. They have gone 40-68 since, the second-worst in the league over that span. Over a full season, that winning percentage would lead to 60 wins - or virtually the same record they finished with in their dismal 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Sunday, then, was time to talk it over in a meeting. "I wouldn't say there wasn't a need for one," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We played a [expletive] game."
Eventually, the Nationals displayed the willingness, if not the ability, to comeback. They trailed 3-0 and then 5-2, but they knocked out Chris Volstad - the pitcher who touched off last week's brawl by hitting Nyjer Morgan with a pitch - with Roger Bernadina's RBI single in the fifth. (Dutifully, the crowd booed.) But they mustered not even a base runner after Morgan grounded out to end the fifth with the bases loaded.
Riggleman believes the endless losing is rooted in something fundamental. His feeling bubbled to the surface Sunday afternoon, after Jordan Zimmermann labored - he threw 80 pitches in his three innings - and the Nationals committed two errors. It was the kind of play that has become commonplace, the kind of play Riggleman wants to ensure is never acceptable.
"Until we get everybody on the same page, that it takes a great effort every day to get out of where we are, it's not going to happen," Riggleman said. "It can't happen. You cannot go to the level that teams such the Padres, Giants, Yankees, Tampa Bay - those teams who are going to be right there at the end - you cannot be in the same class with them until you have everybody on board pulling the same way, putting personal statistics behind them and milestones behind them and all that nonsense. Until every body is pulling the same direction, getting after it every day, it's not going to show up in the win column.
"If you're an elite team in baseball, you can have a day where the energy level is not where it is and it goes under the radar. But it don't go under the radar when you have lost 100 a couple years in a row. We're going to figure out who the keepers are and figure out who is going to be a part of this club in the future that's going to help us get out of these doldrums."
Riggleman typically speaks with his players after every game, but Sunday was different. He asked every coach to give his opinion on the recent play, for the whole team to hear.
"We just got swept by the Marlins, coming off a bad series before that," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "You can imagine the way the tone was. We've got to play better. That's it."
Said second baseman Adam Kennedy: "It's just nice to hear other people's views. We hear Jim's a lot. Those other guys don't say a whole lot. It's nice to hear what they have to say. We respect them a lot and value their opinion.
"They can say all they want. It's up to us to go out there and play good baseball."