On most nights, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman takes a few minutes to review the game with his team, calling attention to good work and teachable moments. Games like the Nationals' 10-7 loss to the Mets on Thursday night, though, require a more guttural approach.
Handed nine innings of bullpen work after Mets starter John Maine left the game as a precaution after one batter, the Nationals instead climbed into a 10-1 hole with sloppy fielding (three errors and a number of other miscues) and hurt their comeback attempt with suspect baserunning (Ivan Rodriguez ran into an out in the sixth inning trying to advance to third while the Mets relayed the ball to the infield after Willie Harris' single).
Afterward, Riggleman's response to the Nationals' effort was swift, and presumably, mostly unprintable.
"I'll let you run with your imagination on that," he said about his choice of diction.
The Nationals knew they had it coming after the loss, which ranks as one of their sloppiest of the year, and in the clubhouse afterward, self-flagellation was the order of the day. Watching the game, it wasn't hard to see what upset Riggleman or the players.
Errors, both mental and physical, crept out of every corner. The Nationals left 10 men on base, nine of them against the Mets' bullpen, and allowed two unearned runs. Starter Luis Atilano put a runner on base with less than two outs in every inning he pitched, and when he tried to pitch of jams, Washington's defense sprung leaks. Rodriguez's baserunning error traded a man in scoring position for an out at a time when the Nationals needed to rally, and overall, the team played with a listlessness that might have been the product of 17 games in as many days, but was obvious early on.
"I think anybody that watched the game knows that we didn't have any energy tonight," said shortstop Ian Desmond, who made two errors, including one in the first inning that cost the Nationals a double play that would have taken two runs off the board on the Wright double that followed. "I wish I could explain it. It's just the way it goes. I'm sure every team in the league is going to have a game like that, at least one this year. Hopefully we had ours tonight."
The fifth inning was the most glaring example. Starter Luis Atilano, who'd done mostly efficient work before tonight, retired one of the five batters he faced in the inning - and that was on David Wright's sacrifice fly. Nyjer Morgan missed the cutoff man on that play, and threw wide of Ryan Zimmerman when he had a chance to throw out Ike Davis at third on Rod Barajas' single. Tyler Walker took over for Atilano, and after giving up a hit to Jeff Francoeur, made an error on a sacrifice bunt. Then Ryan Zimmerman stumbled on the edge of the grass while trying to field a pop-up.
By the time the inning was over, the Mets had five runs on five hits, and led 8-1.
"An explanation is an excuse. We just played bad. I feel bad that the fans who came out here and saw us play bad, because the fans have been great and we've been playing pretty good baseball," Riggleman said. "It's not always - I say that when we lose ballgames, we played good, hard baseball. Tonight, we played hard baseball. We just didn't play good baseball. And we had a nice crowd out there. I wish they had seen us play good baseball."
Offensively, the Nationals went limp against Mets starter Raul Valdes, who allowed three runs in five innings after Maine was taken out of the game. They actually got the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning, but Adam Dunn flew out to left with the bases loaded.
The Nationals have shown an exceptional ability to shake off games like this; they're 3-1 this year in games a day after they allowed double-digit runs. But even if they had rallied to win the game tonight, Riggleman said he still would have let his players know about the mistakes they'd made.
Suffice it to say everyone might have been in a better mood, though.
"This ballclub, I love this ballclub," Riggleman said. "They play hard. But when we don't play smart, that's got to be addressed."