In one of the tightest, most crisply-played games the Nationals have been involved with this year, after a pitching performance that joined Stephen Strasburg's debut as the best of the year, a win turned into a loss on a couple of plays at the plate.
There was little the Nationals did wrong in a 1-0 loss to the Marlins - they gave up three hits, played crisp defense and got good relief pitching after Jordan Zimmermann's stirring six-inning, nine-strikeout performance. But yet, Washington is still waiting for its first four-game win streak of the year.
In the top of the 10th, Nyjer Morgan drew a one-out walk, going to second on another walk from Alberto Gonzalez. But when Adam Kennedy hit a bouncer to second, Morgan charged around third, crashing into catcher Brett Hayes as Hanley Ramirez threw home after double-clutching at second. He was called out, and the Nationals' best chance to score was gone.
Contrast that with the bottom of the inning, when Ramirez raced around second on Chad Tracy's single to left. Roger Bernadina threw a dart home, but Ivan Rodriguez had to turn a little up the first-base line to catch it. He tagged Ramirez high, but not before the shortstop could slide into home with the winning run.
The decision by third-base coach Pat Listach to send Morgan made sense; if the Marlins tried for a double play instead of throwing home, Morgan could have scored uncontested if Kennedy beat it out. And even with Ramirez's throw home, there are two outs in the 10th inning of a tie game. It's a chance worth taking.
But Hayes caught his throw high - in fact, he left his feet to grab it - and Morgan's best chance to score might have been if he slid into home plate, either trying to touch it with his hand or sticking his foot into home plate quick before Hayes scored. So why didn't he slide? I've watched the replay five or six times, and I don't have a good answer. Morgan railroaded Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson on Saturday night, too, but on this play, Hayes at least had the ball. Still, it seemed like Morgan's best chance was to go low when Hayes when high, rather than trying to force the ball loose. It's a bang-bang play, though, and there isn't much time for deliberation before making a decision.
What I do know is this: Ramirez beat a tag at home when Morgan couldn't. And that was the difference between the Nationals having their fourth straight win and coming away victorious on a night when Zimmermann was spectacular, and losing for the 76th time this year.
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