NEW YORK - Last night, the Nationals picked up what manager Davey Johnson and a couple players called their “biggest win of the year.” They came back from three runs down, scored five runs in the final two innings and earned a hard-fought road victory in a game in which they faced arguably the toughest starter in the league.
Today, the Nats scored just a single run, got shut down (yet again) by a starter with a 4.60 ERA and made three errors in a 5-1 loss to the Mets.
How do you explain the dramatic shift over the last 18 hours, a shift that the Nats have felt a number of times this season after it seemed like they were ready to start building momentum and go on a run?
“You can’t explain it,” Johnson said. “It was an uplifting game last night, and today was a downer. Tip your hat to (Dillon) Gee, he pitched a good ballgame. So did our guy. But that’s just baseball. It’s a long season.”
The Nats’ guy was Taylor Jordan, a 24-year-old rookie making his major league debut and first start above Double-A. Jordan pitched pretty well, all things considered, allowing three runs (one earned) over 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered five hits, walked two and struck out one.
The numbers don’t really indicate how well Jordan pitched in his debut. He didn’t miss many bats and threw just 48 strikes among his 84 pitches, but was put in a tough spot on multiple occasions thanks to some poor defensive plays behind him.
“Taylor Jordan pitched a heck of a ballgame,” Johnson said. “For the first time out, I thought he threw the ball good, made some quality pitches. Didn’t get much help from the defense. But he battled them and showed up very well. I was pleased with what I saw.”
Jordan had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and finished last season pitching at low Single-A Hagerstown. Today, he was on a major league mound in front of 20 friends and family members, as well as more than 26,000 others.
“(Getting to the majors this quickly) exceeded even my high goals, so it’s unreal,” Jordan said.
“It was my first game. A lot of stuff going through my head. Big change from what I’m used to. I’m happy with it. ... I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. Just had a lot of trouble commanding my fastball, for the most part. Wished I would’ve threw more strikes.”
Jordan pitched a clean first three innings, but got into trouble in the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman had a Marlon Byrd grounder skip under his glove for an error leading off the frame. Three batters later, John Buck single in Byrd, tying the game.
In the fourth, Byrd again reached on a Zimmerman error, but this time, Ian Desmond picked up the ball on the edge of the outfield grass and tried to throw out David Wright at third, only to have his throw skip away and allow Wright to score. Two batters later, Byrd came in on a sac fly, and the Mets coasted from there.
“He pitched his butt off,” Desmond said. “We didn’t really help him out too much. Couple tough breaks there. No, I think if we get him a little run support he probably settles in a bit more and pitches a nice ballgame.”
“They’re plays that I should make,” Zimmerman said of the errors, “but just unfortunate, kind of tough plays. But I feel bad. Taylor threw the ball well and pitched great. Those two (errors) affected the outcome for him, at least. It was good see him come up here. It didn’t really look like he was nervous at all. Just a tough break for him.”
The Nats again struggled to get anything going off Gee, who is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA against the Nats this season and 3-7 with a 5.55 ERA against everyone else. In his career, Gee is 6-1 against the Nats.
Why can’t the Nats hit this guy?
“I think it’s more us,” Desmond said. “No offense, this is no knock on him. But I think it’s more us, maybe being a little too aggressive or not aggressive enough. One of the two.”
Regardless of which it was, it meant another loss, the Nats’ 40th of the season. They’ve now scored two or fewer runs in 35 of their 80 games this season.