The ball was lifted high in the air, and it carried and carried. Brian Goodwin dashed from his spot in left field, keeping an eye over his shoulder as he ran back. He looked to the wall as he approached the warning track, calculating the real estate remaining to time his leap. He timed the jump right, but it was just short, the ball inches beyond his glove, landing with a hard bounce over the wall and hopping into the blue seats.
Shawn Kelley’s head dropped 300 feet away as Robinson Chirinos, chief antagonist in the Washington Nationals’ latest late-inning meltdown, rounded the bases after his go-ahead three-run home run in the Texas Rangers’ 6-3 victory. Fans, the ones who stuck around after the first bullpen fiasco, began filing for the exits at Nationals Park. It was the 11th inning, and there were better ways to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
The two-out home run was the eighth Kelley has surrendered in 15⅔ innings. It ballooned his ERA to 7.47 and was made possible because Koda Glover, his replacement as closer, blew a two run-lead in the ninth inning. Glover yielded a leadoff home run to Shin-Soo Choo — after not allowing the first 75 batters he faced this season to hit one — and an RBI double to Nomar Mazara. The performances expunged six innings of one-run ball from Gio Gonzalez.
“That was a shame because lost in the defeat was the job that Gio did,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “He did an outstanding job.”
After the game, which started at 12:05 p.m.because of the Nationals’ annual charity Dream Gala on Saturday night, Glover told Baker that he hurt his back showering Saturday morning and should have informed the club. It’s at least the second time Glover, a confident and resolute 24-year-old, tried pitching through an injury in his young major league career. The right-hander also pitched with a torn hip labrum late last season.
“I didn’t want to take a day off,” Glover said. “I’ve had three days off already, so I pushed the limits today, tried to pitch through it. And it’s one of them things where it was out of my control and I should have said something early. I didn’t, and now my back’s in pretty bad shape.”
About an hour before first pitch, the Nationals (38-23) released a lineup with a notable change and a notable absence. The lineup featured Bryce Harper batting second, the first time this season he has hit in that spot, and it didn’t include Ryan Zimmerman anywhere. Adam Lind, not Zimmerman, was at first base despite the Rangers (29-32) starting left-hander Martin Perez.
After the game, Baker revealed that Zimmerman wasn’t available because he also tweaked his back. Zimmerman said he hurt it diving for a ball in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He played Wednesday and Friday in Washington but was “just sort of playing it safe,” Zimmerman said.
Moving Harper up a spot in the order was an attempt to rouse Washington’s offense, which still leads the National League in a bunch of categories but had scored 15 runs in the five games since Jayson Werth, the team’s usual No. 2 hitter, was put on the disabled list with a toe injury. In those five games, a rotating cast of Ryan Raburn, Goodwin and Wilmer Difo combined to go 2 for 20 with a walk and seven strikeouts in the two-hole.
Harper, despite his recent struggles, represented a significant upgrade, even against a left-hander. The right fielder went 1 for 2 with a walk and a double off Perez that kindled the Nationals’ three-run sixth inning. Daniel Murphy followed with a single that chased Perez, who had dodged bullets the previous two innings to keep the Nationals scoreless.
Lind followed Murphy and greeted right-hander Tony Barnette with a two-run home run to right-center field. The home run was his fifth of the season. He owns a 1.009 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 86 plate appearances.
But the Nationals wasted other opportunities. They had two runners on with one out in the fourth inning and the bases loaded with no outs in the fifth but couldn’t generate any runs.
“That hurts,” Baker said. “You got a chance to break the game open and you don’t get anything.”
Gonzalez did his part, plowing through six innings, allowing just three hits and one run while striking out a season-high nine. He went long enough to have the Nationals’ three-run outburst put him in line for the win until Glover fumbled the ninth inning, which was a few inches from being much worse for Washington.
Mazara’s double banged off the right field wall, just short of a three-run home run, and left Peter Kozma on third. Chirinos then lifted a flyball to fairly deep right that Harper settled under for the first out, then uncorked a 98.2-mph missile to the plate to get Kozma tagging up from third base. Kozma was initially called safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review. Oliver Perez then pumped a 94-mph fastball past Rougned Odor. The momentum somehow seemed to have flipped over to the Nationals.
The wave continued when Stephen Drew, pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot, smacked a double against Jose Leclerc to lead off the ninth inning. But the energy was fleeting. Alex Claudio got Matt Wieters to ground out to first base, which moved Drew to third, before Goodwin struck out. Then, facing a 1-1 count, Trea Turner dropped a surprise bunt. Difo, who had entered as a pinch runner for Drew, initially ran for home but suddenly stopped. A second later, he was caught in a rundown and tagged out to end the inning.
“The bunt surprised me,” Difo said. “I thought it was a good bunt to score on. I think I had a chance to score and I made a bad decision.”
The Nationals didn’t put another runner on base again, quietly going down on consecutive days for the first time in three weeks.