ATLANTA - Still wearing the baggy throwback Negro League jersey he and the Nationals donned during tonight’s game, Davey Johnson looked like a man who was running out of answers while meeting with reporters after tonight’s 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Braves.
With the game tied in the top of the ninth inning, Johnson’s Nats put two runners in scoring position with none out against Braves All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.
Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa were then retired in order, leaving the go-ahead run 90 feet away. One inning later, Henry Rodriguez walked two batters, allowed a stolen base and surrendered a game-winning RBI single to B.J. Upton, and the Nats fell back to .500 with the loss.
“That was a tough one,” Johnson said glumly. “We had our chances, good guys up. Just couldn’t get it done.”
Rodriguez gets credited with the loss in this game, and rightfully so, but it could most certainly be argued that the Nats really lost the ballgame when they had three cracks to bring in the go-ahead run from third in the ninth inning and failed to get the job done.
Desmond got a good look at a 2-1 slider from Kimbrel but fouled it off. One pitch later, he looked at a called strike three on a pitch that barely clipped the strike zone up and away.
Bernadina followed by grounding into a force out, with Braves third baseman Chris Johnson firing home to cut down Ryan Zimmerman at the plate. Espinosa then lifted the first pitch he saw from Kimbrel to left for the final out, ending the threat.
“We had him in a jam,” Johnson said. “All we had to do was put the ball in play, a little sac fly. It’s frustrating. ... Desi got a slider inside half, and he tried to go the other way and jammed himself. Then he took a fastball away (for strike three). But Bernie took one right down the middle. They’re just not doing it. It’s tough.”
Rodriguez then fell apart in the 10th. He walked Evan Gattis, the first batter he saw, on four pitches, all of which were fastballs between 101-102 mph that missed by a good margin. Two batters later, Rodriguez allowed pinch-runner Jordan Schafter to steal second base with ease. The Nats have been working with Rodriguez on trying to vary his times to the plate with runners on, but Schafer swiped second without catcher Kurt Suzuki even getting much of a chance to think about making a throw.
“He can’t do it,” Johnson said of Rodriguez. “It’s one thing holding the guy on, but not throwing strikes. You can’t walk them. He didn’t even come close on the first guy.”
After the stolen base, Rodriguez walked Dan Uggla to put two runners on with one out, and Upton, hitting .153 on the season, then lifted a 1-0 fastball into shallow right to bring in the game-winning run and set off a mob scene on the infield.
Johnson had already used Drew Storen and Fernando Abad in relief, he was holding Rafael Soriano in case of a save situation, and Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen were both unavailable after heavy workloads last night. Rodriguez was one of Johnson’s few options in the 10th.
“He’s been doing fairly good,” Johnson said. “If not him, then I’m going with (Erik) Davis and then I’ve got to go to my long man. I’ve got to stay off Clip, 30 pitches last night. There’s not a lot of choices.
“(Rodriguez) just tried to do too much. Didn’t trust his stuff, didn’t go right after them.”
Gio Gonzalez pitched brilliantly, holding the Braves to one run on three hits over his seven innings of work.
“Gio pitched great,” Johnson said. “Outstanding.”
Just another disappointing, frustrating conclusion to a ballgame that was there for the taking.
“We had the opportunities, we had the right guys out there, we just didn’t get it done,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get it done. We’ll get it going.”