Things don’t break Nats’ way in crucial seventh inning

If you didn’t catch tonight’s game, you might check the box score and think the Yankees demolished the Nationals in the opener of their much-anticipated three-game series.

The Nats don’t feel that was the case.

“It wasn’t like we got crushed tonight,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “The score probably says so, but we were in the game. Just like I said, a couple mistakes.”

Some of those mistakes came early, when the Nats left two runners on in the first and then only managed one run despite having the bases loaded with one out in the third. The inning that might stick with them tonight, however, was the seventh, when the Yankees broke the game open with four runs despite only hitting one ball truly hard.

Gio despondent in dugout wide.jpgManager Davey Johnson sent Gio Gonzalez out to begin the seventh despite the fact that the lefty had already thrown 107 pitches. Johnson said Gonzalez was “real adamant” he wanted to go out for another frame, but given that the Nats trailed 2-1 at the time, the skipper decided he was going to go hitter-by-hitter with his starter.

Gonzalez served up a leadoff single to Andruw Jones, and that was it. Johnson called on his bullpen, and Brad Lidge came out to try and keep it a one-run game. Dewayne Wise, pinch-running for Jones, immediately stole second, and after an eight-pitch battle, Lidge walked catcher Russell Martin to put runners on first and second.

“That kind of put us in a hole,” Johnson said of the walk, “which we couldn’t come out of.”

A sacrifice bunt moved both runners up, and an intentional walk to Robinson Cano loaded the bases for Derek Jeter. Lidge and Jeter battled to a full count, and on that 3-2 pitch, Lidge tied Jeter up with a fastball which the shortstop grounded weakly to the left side.

Normally, that’s a perfect result for a pitcher when the bases are loaded. Only this time, the Nats weren’t able to turn an inning-ending double play, cut down the lead runner at home or even record an out of any kind. Desmond had to range deep into the hole to glove the ball, and his off-balance throw to first skipped away from Adam LaRoche for an error.

Two runs scored, and the Yankees never looked back.

“As many times as I’ve made that play this year, I felt good about it,” Desmond said. “Just came out a little low. Another foot and it got him, but that’s just the way it went tonight.”

“That’s what you want, it just didn’t work tonight,” Lidge said of the ground ball. “Sometimes you get the result you want and it still doesn’t work out.”

The Yankees tacked on two more runs on Curtis Granderson’s two-run double off Michael Gonzalez, a base knock which left Lidge with an ugly stat line: 1/3 of an inning, three runs, one hit, two walks. Only one of the walks was intentional and the hit didn’t travel more than 110 feet, which left Lidge shaking his head afterward.

“When I look back on it now,” he said, “it’s kind of frustrating because all of a sudden you’re out of the game. What just happened?”

Since returning from the DL last Thursday, Lidge has made three appearances. Over those three outings, he’s retired five hitters and allowed four runs on two hits and three walks. Again, the results haven’t been great, but Lidge doesn’t feel he’s pitching all that poorly.

“I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with how I’m pitching,” he said. “Obviously, I need a good stretch of games to judge that. Through three games so far, I feel like it’s all right. Not exactly where I want to be, but with any luck the results will be a lot different.”

Tonight, the results - especially in that seventh inning - weren’t to the Nats’ favor. And they paid for it.

“You just can’t mistakes against this club,” Johnson said. “That’s a learning curve.”

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