FLUSHING, N.Y. - When you simplify the Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Mets tonight, the reason for the outcome was simple: The Mets made the fundamental plays late in the game, and the Nationals didn't.
Manager Davey Johnson saw it all unfold in the final two innings. In the top of the ninth, with the game tied 3-3, the Nats got the leadoff man on when Steve Lombardozzi walked, but Ian Desmond failed to get a quality bunt down, and Mets first baseman Ike Davis cut down the lead runner at second. The Nats failed to score in the frame.
"We need that," Johnson said. "Could have been a whole different inning."
Then a half inning later, a similar situation arose. Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez walked Mike Baxter leading off the frame, and Ruben Tejada attempted to lay a bunt down. Tejada pushed the ball back towards Rodriguez, and the righty looked toward second to try and nab the lead runner.
By the time he realized his best play was at first, Rodriguez needed to put a little extra on the throw to beat Tejada, and the ball tailed toward the first-base line. It got by second baseman Danny Espinosa, who was covering first on the play, and allowed Tejada to go to second and Baxter to scoot to third.
Two pitches later, Daniel Murphy singled home Baxter to score the winning run.
"That was a tough one," Johnson said. "Henry had a little problem with PFP (pitchers' fielding practice). He got the bunt good, just had a problem throwing it to first.
"We've just got to do the little things. We've still got some work to do."
Johnson maintained he's happy with the overall body of work Rodriguez has turned in this spring. Prior to giving up the winning run, the flamethrowing righty got the Nats out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth when he struck out pinch hitter Scott Hairston with the potential go-ahead run standing on second base.
"I thought he handled himself well outside of walking the lead-off guy (in the ninth)," Johnson said. "He got us out of a tough jam in the eighth inning. This is the first time in a pressure situation (I) let him start the second time out, but he's certainly capable of doing that. I'm very pleased with Henry and where he's at. Just one of those things."
Johnson said he didn't give much consideration to walking Murphy to load the bases in the ninth with none out and set up a force at home.
"He's got such great stuff, I don't want to put him in where he has to throw it right over the middle of the plate," Johnson said. "Obviously if he got behind [2-0] I'd have walked him. ... That pitch (to Murphy) was a good pitch. You've got to tip your hat to the hitter. Moving fastball in on his hands and got enough to get it to the outfield. But the damage was done beforehand."
The Nats' skipper liked what he saw from starter Edwin Jackson, who allowed three runs on four hits over five innings. Jackson allowed a two-run homer in the fourth inning to center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a shot which came with two outs.
"I thought Edwin threw the ball good," Johnson said. "First time out, new ball club. I didn't want to push him too far. I thought it was a hanging slider he gave up to Newhouser or however you say his name. He crushed that. But by and large, I thought he threw a lot of quality pitches. He hung a couple sliders, and that was when he got hurt.
"We just didn't do the little things. We had runners in scoring position, didn't get the hit, and we've got to be better at that if we want to win."