ANAHEIM, Calif. — Though it was brief, the Washington Nationals’ two-game series with the Los Angeles Angels this week stirred a rare moment of perspective in this trade deadline season — a reminder of how players come and go, their trajectories intertwined, colliding here and there to send them spinning on their way, only to bring them back together again.
In the Nationals’ 7-0 loss Wednesday, a former Nationals draft pick, Alex Meyer, didn’t give up a hit for the first 5⅔ innings of the best start of his career, but was held back from history by two members of his Nationals draft class, Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon.
Meanwhile, a former National, Yunel Escobar, played third base for the Angels and scored their first run. Another former National, Ben Revere, played left field and scored their fifth. Escobar walked to lead off the game against Gio Gonzalez, an omen of things to come.
Gonzalez endured his shortest outing since late May – 5⅔ innings in which he gave up four runs and walked three . The way Meyer pitched, Gonzalez could not afford to give up one. The Nationals were losers in a one-hit shutout for the first time since 2013, the season before which the Nationals traded Meyer. The loss snapped a six-game Nationals winning streak. They will carry a 12-game division lead to their day off Thursday all the same.
“We didn’t really have much of a shot tonight,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “. . . I heard he was our number one draft choice — you can see why.”
The Angels called up the 27-year-old right-hander to start Wednesday’s game. Meyer was the Nationals’ 23rd pick in the first round of the 2011 draft, 15 picks after Rendon, 11 picks before Goodwin. The Nationals traded Meyer to the Twins for Denard Span before the 2013 season, a decision some thought would come back to haunt them some day.
But Meyer never found consistency with Minnesota, so the Twins traded him to the Angels, where he split time between Class AAA Salt Lake and the big leagues this season. Wednesday’s was his first major league start in two weeks, and it came yards from where the man who drafted him, Mike Rizzo, sat in a box near the broadcast booths behind home plate.
It also came against a lineup that included Goodwin and Rendon in the leadoff and sixth spots, respectively. The three of them were introduced together that year, products of a Nationals spending splurge that yielded eventual major league players with four of the first four picks, including third-rounder Matt Purke (a pitcher with Class AAA Charlotte in the Chicago White Sox organization).
“It’s funny to see him in a different jersey, but once the game starts you’ve got to kind of put it behind you,” Goodwin said. “Game on.”
Though the first three hitters to face Meyer all hit the ball well, looking comfortable all the while, they all hit into outs. The next 11 batters made outs, too, looking decidedly less comfortable. Meyer was carrying a perfect game with two outs in the fifth.
Rendon ended that with a four-pitch walk, the Nationals’ first base runner of the evening. But Meyer escaped the fifth without allowing a hit.
Two batters into the sixth, he had still not allowed one, his pitch count under 70, the highly improbable moving into the realm of the slightly more probable.
Then came Goodwin, who turned on a pitch and grounded it hard up the first base line. The no-hitter ended there.
“I went to breakfast with him this morning and paid for it,” Meyer said. “so I’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Meyer went seven scoreless innings in which he gave up one hit and one walk and struck out seven . Nationals’ scouting reports and experience told them Meyer lacked command. Wednesday, he had as much of it as he has at any point in his career.
“I always thought he had great stuff. Even when he was with us, he pitched his tail off, just like he did tonight,” Goodwin said. “. . . You knew when we got him, there was a reason we got him so early.”
Escobar singled off former Angels reliever Joe Blanton to bring home Revere in the seventh, giving Meyer a five-run lead. Mike Trout hit a two-run home run to bury the Nationals later in that inning, and send Meyer to his fourth career win.
The Angels drafted Trout with the compensation pick they received when Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season — a deal that came after the Nationals made a surprising push to sign the first baseman, one of their first significant free agent pursuits after their move to Washington.
So went Wednesday, stories weaving in and out, providing intrigue to what was otherwise one of the Nationals’ least intriguing games of the season. Perhaps it is most useful as a reminder of the way deadline deals — like the one the Nationals made earlier this week, or could still make before July 31 — change careers and fortunes in a minute, and how the game pulls so many back together in the end.