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Maybe the eighth inning of Saturday's game was what the Nationals needed. Maybe the frustration of the past week, abated only by Friday's win over the Cincinnati Reds, demanded an outlet, and maybe Brandon Phillips provided that outlet.
Because after Saturday's 5-1 loss to the Reds, a game where the Nationals had absolutely no answer for Reds rookie sensation Mike Leake, most people weren't talking about the defeat.
Where there could have been frustration bubbling up about the three errors the Nationals committed in the loss (which raised their total to a MLB-high 54) or the offense's weak showing against Leake, players had instead found a perfect target for it: Phillips, who thumped his chest after knocking the ball out of Wil Nieves' glove in a home-plate collision in the eighth.
Jim Riggleman talks with the media about his ejection and the Nats' 5-1 loss to the Reds
The celebration triggered some words from the Nationals dugout, which had already lost manager Jim Riggleman by that point, and when Phillips came up again in the ninth, Miguel Batista drilled him in the ribs with a pitch.
On an aggravating night for the Nationals, maybe that's what they needed.
"It's part of the game," Nieves said. "What he did after, I didn't like. It looked like he scored a touchdown, the way he was celebrating."
The Nationals settled a score with Phillips after things started on an eighth-inning play that helped the Reds score three runs and break the game open. On Sean Burnett's wild pitch, Phillips broke from second to third while Ian Desmond tried to get out of the way. Phillips, Desmond said, ran straight for him to create contact and precipitate an obstruction call. He got one, was awarded third base and manager Jim Riggleman was ejected for arguing the call.
And his chest-thump after railroading Nieves got him hit in his next appearance.
"Nobody said anything to me," Phillips said. "I just go out there and play the best I know how. I play with a lot of excitement, I'm just out there playing. I don't see anything wrong with what I did. If people think I did something wrong, I'll apologize to anyone that thinks so, but it's the name of baseball. I'm just going to keep on going out there playing the best way I know how."
Home-plate umpire Joe West ejected Batista for plunking Phillips; Batista said he was simply trying to pitch inside in one breath, but later said Phillips knew what he did wrong. And nobody in the clubhouse was raising much dispute about what happened.
Batista's only issue was with West, who tossed him without a warning. Though he said West has the right to do so, he thought things were being called too close.
"The way they've got umpires now, they don't actually give them enough room to call the game the way it is," Batista said. "They want everything to be too professional. And they're taking the human part of it. Pitchers make mistakes, throw the wrong pitch, guys drop the ball. Umpires make bad calls, but that makes the game human. And I believe sometimes, they get into too much pressure to get things under control. Sometimes you can't pitch too much inside, and as a pitcher, you're just trying to back a guy up off the plate. If you're going to back him up, you can't throw it on the black. You have to go way in, just to scare him off. But they've got orders to follow, and we've got a game to win."
Maybe all of it will help in some kind of primal-scream therapy sense; Riggleman bristled at the reminder that the Nationals lead the league in errors. "We've had so many ridiculous errors; you use the word 'unconventional.' ... I'm off that subject. I know what we do to prepare. And I know we prepare well. If we don't get the results, we can look ourselves in the mirror and say, 'We do everything we can to play better, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work.'"
The three errors were indeed mostly unconventional; one came when Nieves dropped the ball on the Phillips play, and Desmond got another for obstruction. The Nationals couldn't solve Leake's precisionist's approach to pitching, and mostly wasted a solid outing from Luis Atilano.
But the Phillips beaning? It was handled in Mafioso terms. Just a pitch that got a little too far inside - but it sure served its purpose.
"Players take care of issues," Riggleman said. "I thought it was handled very professionally by everybody involved, and it's over."