It looked like an innocent pop up between left field and right field midway towards the warning track from the first hitter of the game, Padres right fielder Will Venable. Nationals left fielder Roger Bernadina and center fielder Rick Ankiel, as well as right fielder Bryce Harper converged on the fly ball.
Bernadina and Ankiel appeared to look down at each other as they tracked the ball and suddenly it fell in front of Bernadina’s feet.
Venable scampered to second on a double and San Diego had its first hitter on base against previously undefeated Stephen Strasburg.
That opened the door to a three-run, three-hit first inning for the Padres. San Diego scored three runs before the Nationals even stepped into the batter’s box.
It turned into a huge boost for the weak-hitting Padres, who had their opening against Strasburg in the first opportunity presented.
Manager Davey Johnson was none too pleased with what had taken place and said his outfielders have to communicate better and attack those fly balls rather than waiting for the ball to get to them.
“I had a little chat with the outfielders,” Johnson said. “When you take for granted the other guy is going to catch it and let it drop, all three of them are responsible. We haven’t made any of those mistakes to this point. To start a game like that gives them extra momentum. It gives them extra life. We misplayed a couple of balls. Harp broke the wrong way on a ball, gave them a run. We just can’t make those mistakes. It started bad. It kept going that way.”
Johnson said the focus of the defense right out of the shoot affected the rest of the game and the Nationals were literally playing catch up from their first three outs.
“Certainly,” Johnson said. “Three guys could have caught that ball, two of them kind of a look at each other. Nobody called it. You can’t ever take anything for granted in this game. We can’t have that attitude, especially starting the game.”
Bernadina said it was his fault on the Venable fly ball.
“I should have caught it,” Bernadina said. “The ball started to kind of head towards my side. I should have caught it. Stuff like that unfortunately happened. You don’t want it to happen again. You have to move on and go to the next day.”
Bernadina is known for his outstanding defense and knows those kind of plays aren’t indicative of what the defense is capable of doing.
But if someone makes that play and Strasburg strikes out Cameron Maybin, suddenly you have two outs with no one on versus what really happened. The three runs were the most allowed by Strasburg in one inning this season. A 3-0 hole in the first inning was all San Diego needed against Strasburg.
Johnson said they were able to pitch through other issues but a “fly ball drop exacerbates the situation.”
You can bet the outfielders will come to the park with renewed focus for the Pirates and communication during fly balls becomes top priority.