The diehard few who decided to wait out a 2-hour, 43-minute rain delay tonight at Nationals Park were rewarded for their patience with an offer from the club to move down to the best seats in the house for the final five innings of this game.
By night’s end, you couldn’t help but wonder if those fans would happily have remained in their original nosebleed seats in exchange for a more inspiring offensive performance from the home team.
Alas, that’s a lot to ask for right now out of a Nationals lineup that seems incapable of following up one productive night with another. In losing this contest 3-0 to the Orioles, they were held to five or fewer hits for the eighth time in their last 17 games.
And it only got worse after the marathon rain delay between the fourth and fifth innings. The Nats had three hits when the grounds crew unfurled the tarp to cover the infield. They still had three hits when the ninth inning arrived post-midnight, at which point Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner each singled and Brian Goodwin walked in a last-ditch attempt at a rally that ultimately fell short when Mark Reynolds struck out to end the game with the bases loaded.
The Nationals were shut out for the fourth time in their last nine games.
“I’m not too concerned about ... we’ve got some pretty good hitters,” manager Davey Martinez said. “(Daniel Murphy) is just coming back; he lined out today. Adam Eaton is playing really well. Michael’s doing well. We just gotta keep pushing, keep going. The runs will come. I know they’ll come. When they do come, they’ll come in bunches.”
Both teams began the game knowing rain was on the way. It was simply a matter of how many innings could be played before it arrived, and whether the game would be official by that point.
Perhaps with that in mind, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Cashner each worked quickly from the get-go and each managed to complete four innings in an hour before the storm struck with authority.
“I did tell Davey I would try my hardest to put us through five before this rain comes,” Gonzalez said. “If (plate umpire Jerry Meals) didn’t tell us to put the tarp out there, I definitely would be out there in five right now, definitely trying to get that five.”
Gonzalez worked fast, but he made one critical mistake: a hanging curveball to Mark Trumbo, who proceeded to launch it deep into the left field bleachers to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the top of the second.
“One pitch. That was the whole game,” Gonzalez said. “That was it. One pitch. Just hung it, and he did what he did.”
The Nationals had one early shot to score off Cashner, but with runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the first, Bryce Harper grounded to first base, where Trumbo stepped on the bag and threw to second base in time to get Anthony Rendon without any runs crossing the plate.
And so the score remained 2-0 as the game went into a delay. As the hours passed and most fans departed, it was fair to question whether they would ever resume play, in which case the entire affair would have been wiped from the official memory banks, and the game would’ve needed to be re-played in its entirety at a later date.
But finally the skies cleared. Groundskeepers emerged to squeegee the tarp. And at 10:50 p.m., with perhaps 1,000 fans out of the original crowd of 32,153 still in attendance, Shawn Kelley trotted in from the bullpen to replace Gonzalez for the top of the fifth.
“We were gonna wait,” Martinez said. “Nobody said anything about cancelling the game. They thought the rain was going to stop, and we were gonna play.”
Kelley made quick work of Baltimore’s batters in the fifth, striking out the side. But hoping to get another scoreless inning out of him, Martinez let the veteran reliever bat for himself - he struck out, same as he did in the only other plate appearance of his major league career - and then re-take the mound for the sixth.
That didn’t go as well. Kelley surrendered a leadoff double to Adam Jones on a deep drive to left-center that Juan Soto had a chance to catch, then a pair of fly outs to the warning track in center, allowing Jones to tag up and score the insurance run that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
Three runs wouldn’t seem to be such an insurmountable deficit. And on some nights, it’s not for the Nationals. Too many nights recently, though, they haven’t been able to mount any kind of consistent offensive attack. And this was one of those nights.
“I think consistency is just hard in itself throughout baseball,” Rendon said. “You play 162 games, back-to-back and back-to-back. We’re playing at the highest level, and guys are throwing 98 mph sinkers. So it’s kind of hard to be consistent and square that up with a round bat and a round ball. It’s alright. It’s baseball.”