Outs on the bases haunt Nationals during 12-inning loss

Pick your reasons for the Nationals’ latest loss to the Mets, this one by a 6-5 count in 12 innings. Point to Tanner Roark walking the bases loaded in the top of the third and then serving up a grand slam to Adrián González on his next pitch. Mention Brandon Kintzler taking the loss for the second straight day and surrendering a run for the third straight game. And be sure to include back-to-back, three-pitch strikeouts with the winning run on third by Michael A. Taylor and Pedro Severino.

But it’s impossible not to look at the mistakes the Nationals made on the bases, any of which could easily have been avoided and perhaps changed the eventual outcome of their fifth consecutive loss.

The Nats want to be aggressive on the bases, and they’re willing to accept some of the outs that inevitably will result from that approach. But might they be taking it a bit too far right now?

trea-turner-bat-blue-back.jpg“To be honest, I can only remember what I did tonight, so in my mind that means they’re not that bad,” said Trea Turner, who got caught rounding third base too far in the bottom of the fifth and was thrown out to end that inning. “As long as they’re calculated, I think risks are always good.”

Turner indeed had a sound idea when he advanced from second to third on Taylor’s little dribbler to first base and then rounded the base thinking he could surprise the Mets and score on the play. González, though, was on top of things throughout, and after realizing he wasn’t going to get Taylor at first immediately looked to third and fired across the diamond to catch Turner in a rundown.

“I thought there was going to be a play at first, with the pitcher covering and a flip,” Turner said. “And I thought it would be a good time to be aggressive. And the flip just never happened. I guess it’s a little bit of bad luck, but as long as it’s calculated and you’re thinking through things, I like being aggressive as a team.”

Davey Martinez, who spoke to his players afterward and tried to convey a positive outlook, wouldn’t criticize their performance in this game.

“For me, these guys are playing really good,” the first-year manager said. “They’re playing good baseball. They are. One hit here, one hit there. (Anthony) Rendon hits a ball that looks like it’s gonna go three miles and it doesn’t go anywhere (with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth). I’m proud of these guys. If we keep playing like that all year, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The few brave souls who stuck it out for 4 hours, 3 minutes on a frigid Sunday night that extended into Monday morning didn’t appear to be having much fun watching the Mets celebrate their series sweep. They also probably weren’t too thrilled with the countless opportunities the home team squandered along the way.

For example, the bottom of the ninth, a frame in which the Mets did just about everything in their power to hand the game to the Nats yet somehow emerged unscathed.

It began with a walk of Bryce Harper, the fifth time the slugger reached base in the game. And when reliever Seth Lugo’s pickoff attempt sailed into the right field corner, Harper appeared destined for third base. But after reaching second, he hit the brakes. And by the time he realized he could’ve made it 90 more feet, it was too late.

That mistake loomed even larger when Matt Adams subsequently sent a flyball to deep center field, one that allowed Harper to advance to third but easily would’ve allowed him to score had he already been on third.

“I just didn’t want to get thrown out at third,” Harper said. “No outs, in that situation, you’re in scoring position from second base. Could I have gone? Possibly. But for me, I just didn’t want to get thrown out.”

bryce-harper-back-white-artsy-side.pngHarper was front-and-center for several big moments, some good and some bad. He launched his sixth homer in seven games in the bottom of the first. But he eased up running down the line on a 10th inning grounder to first that wound up as a close play. And earlier he gave up on a foul ball down the line that could’ve been caught even though it was close to the short wall in right field.

“I didn’t want to run into the wall,” said Harper, who no doubt remembers the injuries he has suffered in his career after attempting to make those kind of plays.

Harper was at the plate with two outs in the eighth when Rendon was picked off trying to steal second base too soon. Just add it to the list of mistakes on a night that was full of them, though Martinez insisted on emphasizing the positives for a ballclub that now owns a losing record for the first time since Aug. 21, 2015.

“There’s nothing I would change,” the manager said. “These guys are doing well. They’re all contributing in some way or form. We’re just not getting that one, big clutch hit. But we’re hitting the ball hard. I just got done telling all of them: ‘Keep your heads up, because when this thing turns around, it’s going to be awesome.’”

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