By merely standing in their respective dugouts Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Davey Johnson, 68, and Jack McKeon, 80, made history of a sort. The managers of the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins became the oldest duo to manage against one another in the major leagues since 1950 – when McKeon was 19 and Johnson was 7.
“They’ll probably make a joke out of it,” said Kasey McKeon, Jack’s son and a Nationals scout. “Let senior citizens in for half-off or something.”
Once the Nationals’ 11-2 loss to the Marlins began, the Nationals worked toward a more dubious brand of history. In a loss that dropped them into last place in the National League East for the first time since June 14, the Nationals did not record a hit through the first four innings off Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. Coupled with their performance Sunday – when they put the first four runners on base and did not record a hit the rest of the game – the Nationals had made 39 outs since their last hit.
Laynce Nix ended the streak with a home run to lead off the fifth inning, but it made only a dent in the Nationals’ third straight loss, which dropped them to 49-53, four games under .500 for the first time since June 15. The Marlins scored six runs off Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann in 6 2/3 innings, smacking eight hits off him, including two home runs.
In the third inning, Logan Morrison provided the game’s most decisive blow, taking a ball and then mashing a 93-mph fastball over the right field fence and into the Nationals’ bullpen. In the fifth, Greg Dobbs blasted an 0-2 slider to almost the same spot, extending the Marlins’ lead to 5-1.
Impervious to home runs all season, Zimmermann has come undone thanks to them in his past two starts. Zimmermann allowed four home runs in his first 18 starts, a span of 115 innings. In his past two starts, only 11 innings, Zimmermann has given up three. The change has also led to a sudden spike in his ERA, which has jumped from 2.66 to 3.27 in his last two outings.
Zimmermann exited with a man on third base and two outs in the seventh, when Johnson summoned Sean Burnett to pitch to Dobbs, a left-handed batter. Dobbs rolled a single up the middle, scoring Bryan Peterson with the final run charged to Zimmermann.
The Nationals have scored at least five runs in six of 10 games since the all-star break, but ever since the middle of the first inning Sunday they have fallen into a sudden funk. First, Chad Billingsley and two Dodgers relievers allowed the Nationals only one walk out of their final 28 at-bats. And then Tuesday, the Nationals waited until Nix’s homer for their first hit. They scored again in the sixth, when Michael Morse thumped an RBI double to center, scoring Ryan Zimmerman from first base.
But that was it. Over the past two games, which followed outbursts of seven and six runs the previous two days, the Nationals have managed five hits and three runs.
The loss grew ugliest in the ninth inning, when Henry Rodriguez emerged through the bullpen gates. Saturday night in Los Angeles, Rodriguez allowed the tying run to score when he threw a wild pitch so off target it hit the netting behind home plate on the fly.
If that one pitch morphed into inning form, it would have looked a lot like the inning Rodriguez labored through Tuesday. He allowed a leadoff homer by catcher John Buck, and things hardly got better. Before Johnson decided he had seen enough, Rodriguez allowed five earned runs on three hits and three walks.
The final score became cosmetic at that point. The Nationals were back in last place, the spot in the standings that over the past two seasons had become so familiar. The game that got them back there was not – unlike the managers – one for the ages.