The 2013 Nationals have experienced a number of crushing losses. Today's can be added to the list.
Rafael Soriano gave up a three-run homer to Hector Sanchez with two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth inning, turning a 3-1 Nationals lead into a 4-3 loss.
It's Soriano's fifth blown save of the season, one that snaps the Nats' five-game winning streak in shocking fashion and drops them to 59-61 when they appeared poised to get back to .500.
"That one hurt," manager Davey Johnson said. "That one hurt."
Sanchez's homer came on a 3-2 pitch that immediately followed what Soriano thought should have been a called third strike that would have ended the game. His 2-2 offering to Sanchez, a 93 mph fastball at the belt, was called a ball by home plate umpire Jim Joyce, and the inning continued, allowing Sanchez to crush a ball into the second deck just inside the right field foul pole.
Pitch F/X showed that Soriano's 2-2 pitch to Sanchez was indeed in the zone, but Johnson didn't seem to have a problem with Joyce's call. The Nats' skipper took greater issue with Soriano issuing a two-out walk to Giants left fielder Roger Kieschnick, who is hitting .250 with no home runs this season.
"He basically called the low strike all day, didn't call the high strike," Johnson said of Joyce. "But he was consistent with that. He gave a lot of borderline pitches low. But it wasn't that pitch we missed. (It was) walking the left fielder. And had (Buster) Posey two strikes and threw a hanger. But walking the left fielder.
"The guy you've got to get out, the .250 hitter, you've got to get him out. Can't come close to walking. Got to make him put it in play. That's what hurt."
The blown save is Soriano's fifth of the season. This was his third appearance in as many days, and the veteran right-hander nearly blew a save last night, when Denard Span's diving catch saved what would have been at the very least a game-tying (and probably go-ahead) extra-base hit by Hunter Pence with two outs in the ninth.
Still, Johnson says he didn't give thought to going to Drew Storen in the ninth today. Soriano was his guy in that spot, and he just didn't get the job done.
"He's my closer," Johnson said. "Three days in a row is nothing for a closer. Shoot. He had a long layoff before that. That's his spot. (Dan) Haren pitched a heck of a ballgame. I was gonna take him out, but he helped me. He said I've had it after six. He pitched a heck of a ballgame, though. Again."
Asked about Soriano's job security in the closer's role, Johnson gave Soriano a ringing endorsement.
"He's been very consistent," Johnson said. "He'll give up some hits, but he makes pitches when he has to. Maybe that's his, what, third blown save? Fifth? But he's a command pitcher. For whatever reason, I don't know, I thought he was being too fine on that left-hander. He threw two right by him. Wasn't even close. Then he tried to nibble. ...
"If he locates (the fastball), that's his strength. He locates the fastball. But certain guys, it's just, 'Here, hit it.' You don't need to cut it in on them or nothing."
What would have been the Nats' sixth straight win ends up as a big loss with a 10-game road trip upcoming.
"That's this game," Johnson said. "Can't take nothing for granted. Regroup."