They played a ballgame tonight at Nationals Park, the first of 28 remaining ballgames in a season that - it certainly seems safe to now say - will not extend into October. Gio Gonzalez spent the majority of it watching from the dugout, chatting and smiling with teammates like it was any other game, all the while knowing it would be the last time he would watch a game from that particular dugout wearing that particular uniform.
Gonzalez officially will become a member of the Brewers later this evening, once the trade that is sending the left-hander across the field to the visitors’ dugout in exchange for two minor leaguers is formally announced by both clubs.
It’s the second trade the Nationals have made today - they earlier sent Ryan Madson to the Dodgers - in an attempt to clear some payroll while sending two veterans to contenders in time to qualify for postseason rosters. And it’s the sixth trade the club has consummated in the last 32 days, all of which leaves the remaining roster to play out the final 28 games of a season that hasn’t gone anywhere close to plan.
And so they played tonight, hoping for the best against the Brewers, but ultimately prepared mentally for what wound up a 4-1 loss to a club still in the thick of a race the Nationals can now only watch from afar.
Behind three early home runs off Tanner Roark, Milwaukee jumped out to a lead and then hung on against a depleted Nationals club that gave itself countless opportunities at the plate but squandered all of them, including a bases-loaded rally as rain pelted the field in the bottom of the ninth.
Having gone 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, the Nats proceeded to drop their weekend series opener and fall back under the .500 mark to wrap up a miserable August. They’ll head into September at 67-68, needing nothing short of a miracle to catch the many teams ahead of them in the National League standings.
With Gonzalez watching from the dugout rail, Roark took the mound seeking to continue his torrid second half. It quickly became apparent that wouldn’t be the case in this one.
Roark nearly gave up a towering fly ball to Milwaukee No. 3 hitter Jesús Aguilar in the top of the first, only to watch it hook foul. Moments later, he did give up a towering home run to cleanup hitter Travis Shaw, this one blasted to straightaway center field to give the Brewers a quick 2-0 lead.
The long ball proved Roark’s undoing all night. Erik Kratz took him deep in the top of the second, and then Aguilar did launch one in fair territory in the top of the third. Those three homers, surrendered in only 2 1/3 innings, matched the entire total Roark had surrendered in his previous 53 2/3 innings.
To his credit, the right-hander found his groove after that and retired 11 of his last 12 batters before departing after the sixth inning, having allowed those four early runs.
Roark’s teammates didn’t do much to get their starter off the hook for the loss. They got one run back in the bottom of the first, but even that occurred during a rally that ultimately was a disappointment, with only one run crossing the plate after they loaded the bases with nobody out.
Thus established the evening’s theme for the Nationals at the plate. Through five innings, they took 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. They produced only one hit in those 10 at-bats, and that one didn’t even drive in a run.
They would get three more opportunities before night’s end. The result was the same.