The Washington Nationals’ loss Saturday night unspooled like so many before it, only more torturous and more draining. The Nationals’ ritual botching of scoring opportunities continued apace. Gio Gonzalez watched his gem get wadded up and tossed in the wastebasket. In a silent clubhouse, Craig Stammen held his chin with one hand and pecked at his phone with the other.
The Nationals’ 3-1, 10-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers stretched the limits of how brutal baseball can be. The Nationals stranded base runners by the cord, 12 in all. Fans booed as they retreated to the clubhouse. Jayson Werth may not have heard, because he had been ejected after he yelled at home plate umpire Chad Fairchild from the dugout with two outs in the 10th.
The procession of marooned runners allowed the Dodgers to squeak into extra innings. In the 10th, Manager Davey Johnson tabbed Stammen to hold the score at 1-1. Adrian Gonzalez laced a hanging curveball down the third base line for a leadoff double, and Hanley Ramirez smashed a hanging slider to the left-center gap for another double to score the go-ahead run.
“We just got to put the blinders on, put up a brick wall and move past it,” Stammen said.
The Nationals have played 97 games and lost more than they have won. They have held together — “I think a lot of teams under the situation that we’re in would probably be a little more distressed inside the clubhouse than we’ve been,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. But they are also in third place and seven games out of first, and soon the season’s first four months will have expired.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re playing as good as we should be,” Desmond said. “I’m also not going to sit here and say this is the end of the road. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s going to be fine. We’re going to get better and be the players that we know we are. Sometimes, you got to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?’ ”
The Nationals loaded the bases Saturday night in the first inning and came away with nothing. It set an apt tone. In five of the first eight innings, the Nationals either placed at least two runners on base with one out or put a runner in scoring position with no outs. They produced no runs in all five of those innings.
In their past nine games, the Nationals have gone 6 for 66 with runners in scoring position, including 1 for 12 Saturday night. Johnson said hitting coach Rick Eckstein is blameless, calling him “the best instructor I’ve been around.” He seemed at a loss to explain.
“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “I mean, at times we’re putting good at-bats up there. I don’t know.”
Some Nationals put themselves in good counts then grew too selective. Other hitters expanded the strike zone and let Zack Greinke escape with a ball. Some strayed from their typical approach. Some simply hit into bad luck.
“In RBI situations, we don’t get any hits,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Maybe everybody wants to get those RBI. Maybe a little bit of pressure. We have to concentrate more on those situations and try to get base hits, not looking for homers.”
Even the pitcher who benefited from the Nationals’ squandering had trouble explaining how a lineup that looks so deep on paper could struggle so mightily to push across runs.
“I couldn’t find many holes on many of their hitters,” Greinke said. “I mean most hitters have places you could go, but I couldn’t fine many on these guys. It was tough because they’re aggressive in the strike zone, so I threw a lot of close pitches and they took it. It makes it tougher. They should be scoring more than they have.”
Gonzalez held the Dodgers scoreless for six overpowering innings and matched his career-high with 11 strikeouts. He helped perpetuate the Nationals’ domination of phenom Yasiel Puig, who has gone 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in the first two games of the series.
The Nationals took the lead only with a two-out instant rally in the sixth. Chad Tracy poked a single to right. Ramos walked. Roger Bernadina dumped a pinch-hit, broken-bat single to right field. Tracy scored as Puig’s throw sailed wide.
With Gonzalez out of the game, Johnson chose Drew Storen to protect what would have been Gonzalez’s fifth consecutive win. Storen whiffed the first batter he faced and got a one-hopper to Desmond for the second out.
But left-hander Skip Schumaker golfed Storen’s low slider to the right-center field gap for a double. Mark Ellis flared an 0-2 fastball to left field in front of Bryce Harper, and Schumaker raced home to tie the score.
The Nationals fumbled their chance to strike back. Denard Span led off with a single, but Anthony Rendon could not bunt him to second. Ryan Zimmerman singled, but with two on and one out Harper struck out against tough lefty Paco Rodriguez. Werth had a chance to atone for two earlier crucial outs, but he could only ground out to shortstop.
In the eighth, the Nationals put runners on first and third with one out. Recently acquired Scott Hairston struck out against right-hander Ronald Belisario as Johnson kept switch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi on the bench, preferring Hairston’s fastball-hitting ability. Span flied out to left field.
“I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing it, but it’s got to turn around at some point,” Desmond said. “If it doesn’t then we’re going to keep on trying until we run out of time.”