The Nationals' loss to the Cubs last night was largely uneventful for seven innings, as the Nationals struggled to mount any kind of a rally against Carlos Zambrano while the Cubs struck two big blows against John Lannan. But things got awfully interesting in the last two innings; the Nationals came a run from tying the game in the ninth, partially because they left the bases loaded against Carlos Marmol in the eighth.
So while it was their sixth loss in eight games, the rally left the Nationals some hope going forward. Manager Jim Riggleman dressed his team down after Monday's 9-1 loss, and gave an extended talk on the mound on Tuesday before going through some fundamentals. "I got on them pretty hard (on Tuesday)," Riggleman said. "I just felt like, 'All right, that's over. Let's go play baseball. Let's play it all out. That's why you signed up. Let's finish it out.'"
Here are the awards from last night:
Adam Kennedy: It was the second baseman's bases-clearing double in the ninth inning that made things interesting. He finished 2-for-5 with three RBI, though he could have extended one inning if he'd beaten out a grounder. Kennedy drove in all three of his runs with his double off Marmol, and could have scored the tying run had Ryan Zimmerman's long fly to right not been caught.
Alberto Gonzalez: Filling in for Ian Desmond again, Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, putting a charge into the ninth-inning rally with a single off Marmol. He also led off the third with a single, and scored the Nationals' first run.
Collin Balester: Balester's taken quite a bit of grief for his last relief stint, in which he hit two batters in the head, but give him credit for coming back from Triple-A Syracuse last night and turning in a strong eighth inning to keep the Cubs in view. Balester struck out two batters, finishing the inning in 14 pitches.
Ivan Rodriguez: The catcher has been hitting well lately, but he had a rough night on Tuesday, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. One came to start the ninth against Marmol, costing the Nationals an out they could have used.
Ian Desmond: In his pinch hit appearance, Desmond came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and a chance to tie the game. He looked at a strike, then took two check swings that were called for strikes, going down on three pitches. A base hit there would have set the Nationals up for the ninth inning.
In Case You Missed It:
--The key to Kennedy's three-run double in the ninth inning? Marmol throwing him ball one. Behind in the count, Marmol loses some of his ability to throw sliders out of the strike zone, because he risks walking Kennedy, bringing in a run and giving Ryan Zimmerman a chance to win the game with the bases loaded. "I'm pretty much his guy at that point to go after. I'm sure he didn't want to face Zim," Kennedy said. "I was just looking for a fastball up and tried to put a good swing on it."
--The Nationals' ninth-inning was also catalyzed by a couple of impressive at-bats from Michael Morse and Willie Harris, who each worked walks against Marmol. Morse fell behind 1-2, and took three straight pitches for balls, where Harris got ahead 3-0, took two strikes and watched ball four. Both of them scored on Kennedy's double.
--It wasn't in the Nationals' game, but remember umpire Scott Barry? He's the umpire that came up from the minor leagues and threw Ryan Zimmerman out of his first career game last week in Atlanta after Zimmerman spiked his bat and helmet in frustration over his strikeout. Barry was at the center of attention again on Tuesday, running Ryan Howard out of the Phillies' 16-inning loss to the Astros. Barry called two check swing strikes in the 14th inning, and Howard, yes, threw his bat. That got him tossed by Barry, and the Phillies finished the game with pitcher Roy Oswalt playing left field and Raul ibanez at first.
1. Did the way the Nationals played on Tuesday give you any peace about how they'd responded to Monday's flat effort? Or did the ninth inning just dress things up?
2. Unrelated to the game, what's your level of anxiety on Stephen Strasburg at this point? He'll have his