The first question Nationals manager Davey Johnson was asked in his press conference following today's 8-5 extra-inning loss to the Reds was about the umpiring.
That's how much a couple first-inning calls that didn't go the Nats way affected the course of this game.
It started with a close play at first in which Adam LaRoche appeared to touch first base only to hear first base umpire Mike Everitt say LaRoche had missed the bag and call Scott Rolen safe. That kept the inning alive.
A batter later, Jay Bruce took an offspeed pitch that looked to be strike three, only to have it called ball four, loading the bases. One batter after that, Ryan Ludwick could have been rung up looking at a close pitch, but wasn't. He then made the Nats pay by blasting a grand slam to left center, giving Cincinnati a very early 4-0 lead.
"Early on, I thought we caught a couple bad breaks," Johnson said. "I thought we had him at first and then I thought that was a pitch that should have been called a third strike on Bruce. But that's baseball. Those things sometimes get the breaks. We battled back and had chances to win the ballgame. Just didn't get it done."
On the LaRoche play, Everitt told the Nats first baseman that he was looking at the bag - not LaRoche's attempt to tag Rolen - but just didn't see him touch the base.
"I think it was bang-bang any way you want to look at it," Johnson said, "but I think the replay showed we probably had him."
Perhaps the most questionable of the calls was the 3-2 pitch to Bruce, which appeared to be in the zone by a few inches, only to be called a ball.
"The ball on Bruce, Bruce looked like he started walking back to the dugout," Johnson said. "We were kind of hollering, but that's part of the game. We had plenty of chances."
They sure did, but yet again, the Nats struggled with runners in scoring position. Today, they went 2-for-13 in those situations, and now have scored just 10 runs in 25 at-bats with a runner at third and less than two outs.
For a team that doesn't hit a lot of home runs, the situational hitting will need to improve if the Nats are going to have legitimate success this season.
"The makeup on this ball club is wanting to do it so bad we get overly aggressive," Johnson said. "I keep trying to talk to some guys. 'The (pitcher's) in the jam, not you. Just look for a cookie and he's going to give it to you.' Unless it's (Greg) Maddux or somebody out there."