At 9:38 p.m. Thursday night, two hours and 33 minutes after the scheduled first pitch, Gio Gonzalez and Mike Foltynewicz walked onto the lightly drizzled field at Nationals Park. They were the starting pitchers for the series opener between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, and the first players to emerge from their respective clubhouses during the faux rain delay. The few people still in the stands roared as they commenced their pregame routines.
Gonzalez finally tossed the game’s first pitch 32 minutes later, at 10:10 p.m. It was the oddest of circumstances, but familiar troubling sequences for the Nationals followed over the next 3 hours and 10 minutes of a 5-2 loss: another wasted quality start for Gonzalez, more late-inning trouble for the bullpen, and another injury to a key position player.
Gonzalez allowed three runs over six innings, but departed facing a 3-2 deficit that quickly became 5-2 in the seventh inning with Sammy Solis on the mound. Michael A. Taylor wasn’t around to see it. He was Washington’s latest casualty, exiting after the third inning with a right oblique strain that will send him to the disabled list.
Taylor aggravated the injury, which he initially sustained in Miami in June, fouling off a pitch in his second at-bat. The center fielder, who was enjoying his best season after assuming the everyday job following Adam Eaton’s season-ending injury in late April, didn’t take the field for the fourth inning after grounding out in the bottom of the third.
“It was starting to go the right way,” Taylor said. “It’s just been up and down since then. I tried to manage my reps and things like that to give myself the time to heal. But when you play it’s kind of tough to do that.”
Brian Goodwin, who homered, shifted from left field to center. Ryan Raburn entered in left. Chris Heisey will be recalled Friday to take Taylor’s spot on the roster.
“It’s tough,” Baker said. “Hopefully he’ll be ready shortly after the break, those four days of all-star [break] count toward the DL. You want to get him well because you don’t want that to come back.”
Gonzalez did not mask his desire to spend his all-star break in uniform for the National League team in Miami. He declared that making the team in his home town was one of his goals for 2017 during spring training. It seemed unlikely at the time. Gonzalez’s ERA had increased each year since his last all-star appearance in 2012, up to a career-high 4.57 last season. His all-star days seemed to be long behind him. But he was firm. He wanted to be there in his home town.
He has spent the past three months pitching like someone worthy of the nod, entering Thursday with the third-best ERA in the National League. But his name wasn’t included on the National League roster, and his manager noted the pitcher’s disappointment.
“I told him, if you’re not chosen or somebody doesn’t get hurt or doesn’t pitch on Sunday, then you got the second half to do even better and show them they should have chosen you in the first place,” Baker said. “In reality, what else can you do? Because if you go somewhere and hide or pout or whatever and you don’t do well, then it’s like, ‘See, you shouldn’t have made it in the first place.’ ”
Gonzalez, perturbed with the delay after the game, wrapped up his first half by logging at least six innings and surrendering three or fewer runs for the 15th time this season. He enters the break with a 2.86 ERA .
“We tried to make jokes out of the 15-minute rain delay,” Gonzalez said. “A seven o’clock game, for 15 minutes of rain, that’s unbelievable. I’m talking to you at 1:30 in the morning right now. 15-minute delay . . . but that’s not the excuse. I should have pitched better. I should have pitched a better game.”
The start of the game was officially delayed at 6:40 p.m. due to “approaching weather.” But the tarp wasn’t placed on the field. Nationals Park was dry. Light rain finally began falling at 9:08 p.m. At 9:36 p.m., the Nationals (50-35) issued their first statement on the befuddling matter since announcing the delay.
“It is our sincere hope that we will be able to play tonight’s game,” the statement read. “The weather system that we have been monitoring is beginning to reach the ballpark and should pass through shortly. It is our hope that once it moves out we will be able to play. Thank you for your patience.”
No such system ever passed through. Instead, two minutes later, the game’s starting pitchers emerged. The tarp was then pulled off and other players filtered out to stretch.
Gonzalez’s first pitch at 10:10 ended a delay of three hours and five minutes — long enough for 34 of the Nationals’ 84 games this season. Washington got on the board first in the second inning. Wilmer Difo cracked a sacrifice fly to right field to score Anthony Rendon, who led off the inning with a double.
In the third inning — after legions of fans scurried to the concourse when the Nationals announced free soda, water, and novelty ice cream for the rest of the night — Ender Inciarte and Brandon Phillips delivered consecutive two-out singles to bring up Nationals nemesis Freddie Freeman. The Braves first baseman, who is also moonlighting at third base since returning from injury on Tuesday, entered with a .330 batting average and .919 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his career against Washington. He promptly whacked an RBI double to tie the game at one.
With first base open, the Nationals decided to intentionally walk Matt Kemp to load the bases, figuring Gonzalez had a better chance of wiggling free from the jam against the left-handed-hitting Nick Markakis. Gonzalez won the battle, inducing a groundout to escape. The Braves (41-43) struck for a second run in the fourth inning, when Kurt Suzuki clubbed a line drive that twisted Bryce Harper in right field and landed over his head for a double. Johan Camargo followed with a single to score him.
The Braves scored their final run off Gonzalez in the sixth inning on a Suzuki home run, his third against the Nationals this season. The lefty then gave way to Solis, whom the Braves welcomed with two runs on three doubles in the seventh. Freeman provided the second two-bagger for his 1000th career hit — and 125th against the Nationals.
The score held until the end, when pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit a groundball to short at 1:20 a.m. Friday morning for the game’s final out.