BALTIMORE - The Nationals came into Saturday’s game against the Orioles feeling as relaxed about their offense as they had all season, and deservedly so. They’d broken a 19-inning shutout streak with a team-record 17 runs the night before, and on Saturday afternoon, music thumped through the visitor’s clubhouse at Camden Yards, as though it had never been shut off from the night before.
And by the third inning on Saturday, it looked like they were on their way again. They’d scored a pair of runs off Jeremy Guthrie, hustling for two when Brandon Snyder made an error on Laynce Nix’s ground ball to first, and they had a 2-0 lead against the Orioles.
That, though, was pretty much all they’d get. Baltimore came back for four in the third on John Lannan, also benefiting from an error, and Guthrie turned into a buzzsaw, throwing 70 strikes in 104 pitches to put the Nationals’ hitters on the defensive in an 8-3 Orioles win. Two hours and 35 minutes after the game started, the visitors’ clubhouse was back to silence.
“It’s really more the starting pitcher,” third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. said. “Great pitching will beat hot hitting. He was on today. It doesn’t really matter what we did last night - if we got no-hit or if we scored 17 runs. It’s all about the next day’s starting pitcher.”
On many days, the Nationals aren’t going to be good enough to beat a pitcher who’s on, and Guthrie gave them little to work with after the third inning. They put two runners on in the sixth after Nix walked and Jayson Werth singled, but Guthrie got Matt Stairs to roll over a first-pitch changeup for a 4-6-3 double play.
“I actually thought along with him in the proper way,” Stairs said. “He hadn’t thrown me a changeup all night, and I sat changeup, and instead of just waiting to get up in the zone, I tried to hit it. I hit his pitch, instead of being the fastball hitter that I am. I tried to hit his pitch, he made a good pitch, and I rolled over for a double play. It’s part of the game.”
The key to that at-bat, as Stairs said, was that he hit Guthrie’s pitch, instead of finding one he could drive. But manager Jim Riggleman said by the time he recognized it was a changeup, he’d already committed to the pitch.
“You tip your hat to him making a quality pitch,” Stairs said,”and me being a dumb hitter and rolling over it and hitting into a double play.”
The Nationals will send a well-rested Jordan Zimmermann to the mound Sunday to try and win the series with the Orioles, and they could catch a break going from Guthrie to Chris Tillman, who has a 5.35 ERA for the season. But Saturday, Guthrie got into a rhythm long enough to stop the Nationals from enjoying theirs.