The Washington Nationals fell to the San Diego Padres, 4-3, in a marathon 12-inning loss on Thursday night because of two singles allowed by reliever Craig Stammen in the final frame. Although Stammen will carry the loss, the Nationals’ offense should bear the blame. The Nationals produced 18 baserunners, including 16 hits, against the Padres’ strong pitching staff but could push only three runs across home plate, none in the final five innings.
The details are gory and final result head-scratching in the 4-hour, 14-minute game. In three of the final five innings, the Nationals put the leadoff runner on base — and they stayed there. In the 10th inning, Jose Lobaton led off with a double, but the following three batters — Zach Walters, Denard Span and Anthony Rendon — struck out. Aided by a left fielder who tripped, Bryce Harper started the 12th inning with a double, but the game ended with a Tyler Moore strikeout and Lobaton’s hard liner that resulted in a double play.
The Nationals managed to put so many baserunners on against the Padres that it seemed like their bullpen would finally snap. It didn’t, and the Nationals’ offense came to a crashing halt every inning it was poised to break out. The Nats stranded 14 baserunners and went 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position. That requires more than just bad luck.
“We’re trying too hard,” Lobaton said. “We’re trying too hard. We’ve just got to relax and let the ball drive. It’s going to happen. I know we’ve got a pretty good team. We can do better and better.”
The Nationals can find solace in the multitude of opportunities they created, especially against the Padres’ bullpen that entered the day with a 1.74 ERA. The Nationals, however, are frustrated by their uncanny inability to bring those baserunners home. The game featured 24 hits, six walks, 19 strikeouts, and 37 players.
“Opportunities are there,” Williams said. “It didn’t happen. Just keep providing ourselves those opportunities, it will happen for us.”
The Nationals’ offense is much improved since last season — they have scored the ninth most runs in the majors — but, when runners are on, they have struggled. Including Thursday’s loss, the Nationals are hitting .206 with runners in scoring position, the third lowest mark in baseball and just ahead of the Padres and Houston Astros.
“Could be some bad luck there,” Danny Espinosa said. “At the same time, they can make pitches. I don’t know. Every guy’s got a different approach there, so you can’t really tell what everyone is doing. Nobody’s trying to get out.”
By the time the game ended, Jordan Zimmermann’s solid start was almost forgotten; he fired six good innings but coughed up a costly two-run double to Yasmani Grandal in the sixth. Tyler Clippard inserted drama into eighth inning but eventually escaped. Rafael Soriano did the same in the ninth, but got an assist with an overturned play at second prompted by Manager Matt Williams’ first successful replay challenge.
The Padres managed to win despite losing starting third baseman Chase Headley and left fielder Seth Smith to injury. As a result, the game descended into absurdity when in the top of the 11th inning, Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner, Saturday’s scheduled starter, played left field for one at-bat before being double switched out of the game with a replacement outfielder.
When Stammen entered the game in the 10th inning, he believed the game would end with him. Stammen did his part for the first two innings and then stumbled in the 12th.
“I was kinda prepared to go four innings probably because I knew all the other guys in the bullpen were probably down,” Stammen said. “I knew I was either going to get the win or get the loss.”
In his third inning of relief, Stammen gave up a one-out single to Jedd Gyorko. Lobaton’s errant throw to second base to nab the stealing Gyorko sailed into the outfield, allowing him to take third. The next batter, former National Xavier Nady, smacked a chopping groundball up the middle that bounced into the outfield. It was enough to score Gyorko — and likely would have driven him in from second.
“Two weak contact hits that I can’t do anything about,” Stammen said. “I got behind Nady 2-0 so he kinda knew a fastball was coming. I left it up a little bit but he put it in a good spot.”
There were some bright spots for the offense. Span and Jayson Werth each had three hits. Espinosa and Adam LaRoche, two of the biggest question marks in the lineup entering the season, continued sizzling starts. Each provided solo home runs — Espinosa in the sixth, LaRoche in the seventh — that turned a two-run deficit into a tie game.
For the next five innings, each dramatic moment was covered with a wet blanket. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Espinosa popped out to the shortstop. In the 10th, Lobaton was at second with a double but ended the inning there. Walters took a 2-2 pitch from Tim Stauffer to strike out looking. Span and Rendon both whiffed.
“Certainly we want to advance [Lobaton] to third,” Williams said. “So, again, it’s part of the game and it is the game. We’ll take our chances with that many guys out there all night. And that’s kind of been the case for us. We’ve had a lot of opportunities. So we’ll take our chances with that.”