SAN DIEGO - Rafael Soriano seems to be a lightning rod for criticism among Nationals fans.
Now I'm not here to tell fans how to feel about players. If you want to have certain feelings about a certain player, you're definitely entitled. It's a free country. And a free blog.
But I am going to use this post to defend Soriano.
Going into last night's outing, which ended in a blown save, the veteran right-hander had converted 12 of his 13 save opportunities on the season.
He had a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings. He had allowed just 13 hits. He'd yet to surrender a homer. His ERA-plus was 475. (An average big league pitcher has an ERA-plus of 100.)
Did Soriano have a rough patch at one point last season? Yes. Does he have a tendency to make ninth innings dramatic and raise your pulse a bit? You bet.
But this season, Soriano has largely been terrific. Last night, he made a mistake on a 1-0 pitch to Yonder Alonso, leaving a sinker up and there for the taking. And Alonso pounded it over the right field wall, tying the game, giving Soriano his second blown save and forcing Blake Treinen to go at least four more days without a big league win next to his name.
"That's it. I lost the game on one pitch," Soriano said afterward. "Sinker down and away. I see the pitch. It be high, right in the middle. Nothing I can do."
Soriano didn't hide from reporters. He stood there at his locker, answered the questions and took ownership of the mistake pitch. Not that he deserves a medal for doing so, but it deserves mentioning.
Prior to that pitch, Soriano's stuff had been excellent last night. He got Seth Smith to strike out on a sinker to open the bottom of the ninth, then got a tapper back to the mound off the bat of Chase Headley. After the Alonso homer, Soriano then struck out Cameron Maybin swinging at a slider to end the frame.
"That's what happens," Soriano said. "It only has to be one pitch. Tonight, the same situation had happened before. One pitch. That's all."
Craig Kimbrel, arguably the best closer in the game, blew his second save last night. Blown saves come with the job, something Soriano knows full well by now after 13 years in the majors.
"I'll try and come back tomorrow and make a better pitch," he said. "You cannot win them every day. I want to. It's impossible in this game. I want to win because these guys do their job, and I want to do my job, too.
"Tonight, it didn't happen. I'll be ready tomorrow."