SAN DIEGO - There are mistakes the Nationals make on an occasional basis, mistakes they’ve made with regularity more recently and mistakes they’ve been making all season.
Their 7-3 loss to the Padres on Thursday night had all three kinds. And whether or not that makes it one of the low points of the 2011 season, there seemed to be little denying it was one of their worst efforts this year.
The Nationals ran their way into two outs - one because of mistaken aggression, another because of delayed hustle. Their bullpen issued walks when the game was still within reach. They deserted runners in scoring position with regularity. At the end of the night, they were a season-low nine games under .500, needing to sweep the last three games at Petco Park to come home with a winning record on their longest road trip of the season.
“It was not a good game,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “The effort and intensity’s there, but it was just not a good game. We had a couple things happen on the bases. We walked people. It just was not a pretty game. I don’t know how else to say it.”
That probably should have been clear from the first inning, when Rick Ankiel drew a walk and stole second to put himself in scoring position with one out and Jayson Werth - who led the National League in doubles last season - coming to the plate in the National League’s most cavernous ballpark. But Ankiel got thrown out stealing third, and Werth’s triple to the wall in right center came with no one on base.
Riggleman said Ankiel thought he picked up a sign in Aaron Harang’s delivery that helped him read when the right-hander was going to the plate. But when he broke for third, he was thrown out easily.
“It was just a bad time to run,” Ankiel said. “You’re always looking for timing, but it was just bad judgment on my call.”
In the bottom of the first, Livan Hernandez threw a high sinker to Chase Headley, who launched it out to left for a two-run homer, and the Nationals were in a hole for the rest of the night. That hole got bigger in the sixth, when the Padres strung together three singles off Hernandez, Sean Burnett walked the one batter he faced (rookie Anthony Rizzo) and Henry Rodriguez came in to issue two more walks.
It was 7-2 by the end of the seventh, and Wilson Ramos’ pinch homer in the ninth only prolonged the game and polished the final score.
“We lose a lot of good games that we’re supposed to win,” Hernandez said. “We feel it. We’re human. We don’t feel too good about the games where we lose by one run, and sometimes we’re winning, and we lose it in one inning. It’s hard. But we’ve got to continue to play. We’re going to get hot and win seven, eight games in a row. That time’s got to come. I don’t know when.”
The Nationals continue to say that, but it’s starting to sound less like a proclamation and more like wishful thinking.