ATLANTA - A despondent Ryan Mattheus sat at his locker after today's 5-4 loss to the Braves, quietly staring straight ahead at nothing in particular.
Mattheus allowed the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning tonight, loading the bases on two walks and a single. He then grazed the jersey of Andrelton Simmons with a sinker, plating Jeff Baker to give the Braves the lead.
Only nine of Mattheus' 23 pitches were strikes, so it's obvious what the issue was.
"I just couldn't find the zone. I just didn't throw strikes," he said. "That's inexcusable. I didn't even give us a chance to win that game. I've got to go out and I've got to throw strikes. If I get beat throwing strikes, it's a little easier to swallow. I can't remember that happening any time in the past that I can remember. It's inexcusable.
"I let the guys down today."
A stand-up guy, Mattheus was willing to put the full weight of today's loss on his own shoulders. In reality, a lot transpired both prior to his inning of work and after it which led to the end result.
The Nationals scored four runs in the first two innings combined, then didn't score again after that. Their pitchers walked five Braves hitters overall. They put the tying run 90 feet away with one out in the ninth, but Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore both struck out to leave the runner stranded. They had a blown call at first base turn into a game-tying home run which changed the game's momentum.
"We had our chances," Adam LaRoche said. "We put some runs up early and then got shut down. We didn't do anything after that. Two runs (after the blown call) didn't help, came at a crucial point, but we could've done a better job getting guys on base."
The blown call, however, will get the bulk of the attention following this game.
LaRoche could feel his foot on the first base bag when he made the catch of Edwin Jackson's throw in the sixth inning. He knew Martin Prado should have been called out, and when first base umpire Marvin Hudson signaled that LaRoche had been pulled off the bag, the Nationals' first baseman knew Hudson had blown the call.
"I was sure," LaRoche said. "For whatever reason, he couldn't tell. He couldn't see it. It cost us a big run."
LaRoche was asked if he was surprised that the umps didn't confer to make sure they had gotten the call right.
"No, I'm not surprised anymore," LaRoche said. "I used to be. I don't know how they determine whether they ask for help or not. Some guys don't mind doing it. Most of them don't."
Jackson was visibly frustrated by the blown call immediately after it happened. He was even more frustrated when Jason Heyward crushed a two-run homer to tie the game four pitches later.
"At the time, I was (affected by the call), but by the time I get on the mound, I don't feel like that distracted me where I walked someone or I was super-erratic all over the place," Jackson said. "I missed one down. I missed one up. Then tried to come back at him. I was still ready to pitch.
"I was just trying to come back and be aggressive. Just try to come at him, and he hit the ball out the park. A pitch down the middle."
Yet again, the Nats leave Turner Field for the night trying to brush off a one-run loss which could have easily been a Nationals win. Yet again, however, they say they won't let the defeat linger.
"The tougher ones for me (are) when we go out and beat ourselves, go out and kick the ball around, miss a lot of opportunities," LaRoche said. "Those are hard to get over. This one, we got beat. They shut us down for six, seven innings. We'll be fine."