Controversial game ends with Nats’ seventh straight loss (updated)

This weekend is about Ryan Zimmerman, no doubt. As the Nationals get ready to retire his No. 11 tomorrow, all eyes are on Mr. National, the first player in the team's history to be so honored.

Former teammates Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa lined the top of the visitor’s dugout for a pregame Q&A session hosted by MASN’s own Bob Carpenter in front of a gathering of season ticket holders before Zimmerman himself showed up for the later portion.

The real celebration is tomorrow, but it was a nice way to kick off the special weekend.

Then there was a baseball game to be played, with the Nationals looking to avoid the doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Phillies and snap a six-game losing streak in the process. They weren’t able to do so, losing 8-7 in 10 innings in front of 24,785 people in attendance for an unbelievably whacky nightcap.

Let’s fast-forward to the extra frame. Kyle Schwarber was the automatic runner at second base for the Phillies. Steve Cishek walked Rhys Hoskins to put a second runner on base. A 3-1 groundout by Nick Castellanos moved the runners into scoring position for J.T. Realmuto.

Here’s where things get fun. Or crazy, depending on your viewpoint.

Realmuto hit a grounder up the middle that Luis García couldn’t field as Hoskins was running toward third. Seeing the mixup, Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan sent Hoskins home even though Lane Thomas had already fielded the ball in center field. Hoskins was out by a mile at the plate, but was ruled safe due to obstruction in the basepaths by García. The young shortstop and manager Davey Martinez pleaded their cases, but to no avail. Martinez was eventually thrown out of the game by second base umpire and crew chief Dan Iassogna, who received an earful from the Nats skipper.

Rule 6.01(h)(2) states: "Obstruction is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner." Both parties seemed to have different opinions of whether or not García was fielding the ball.

“Everything," Martinez said when asked during his postgame press conference what frustrated him about the call. "It was interference (on Hoskins). And then they gave obstruction to Luis. So if he gets obstruction, he's awarded third base, he's not awarded home. After he touches third base and he rounds the base, to me it's fair game. He got thrown out by 40 feet. So what are we doing? Really? What are we doing? He told me that Luis had plenty of time to catch the ball. The ball was in front of Luis when he ran into Hoskins. So what are we doing? Honestly, what are we doing?”

“In that instance, we felt like the fielder had already attempted to make a play on the ball, and then the contact occurred," Iassogna told the pool reporter. "Once he does that, he’s got to vacate, he’s got to get out of the way of the runner. So once he tries to field the ball, once we feel like he’s done that, he’s tried to field the ball, it’s his job to get out of the way of the runner. I know it was very close when that happened, and it’s a judgment call. It’s a very close judgment call."

The other judgment call was awarding Hoskins home, on which point both parties again had differing opinions.

“He's saying that he would have scored," Martinez said. "Play should have been dead to begin with (because of interference on the runner).”

“What the actual rule on obstruction is, once you have obstruction, you’re going to award the runner whatever you felt he would have had, whatever base he would’ve reached, had the obstruction not occurred," Iassogna said. "We felt that he wouldn’t have been thrown out had the obstruction not occurred.”

“What can I say?" García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "To be honest, with all due respect, I just don't agree with the call.”

By nature, judgment calls are subjective, which leads to confusion among players and coaches when rules aren't applied the same in all situations.

“I mean, it's a pretty tough call," Juan Soto said. "I was talking with one of the umpires the other day, and he was telling me that in plays like that the fielders always have that advantage. They cover the whole time until they catch the ball. And it didn't happen that time. I was just a little confused about it. For me, I think Luis should be protected by that ball because he was going for it and he knows where he was and (Hoskins) should go around him. But at the end of the day, they didn't make the call. They go their way and we just couldn't do anything else.”

This whole situation also could have been avoided if the Nats had intentionally walked Realmuto with first base open, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup after the Phillies forfeited the designated hitter by pinch-hitting Harper (who can't play the field with a partially torn UCL in his throwing arm).

“The way Realmuto has been swinging this whole series, we thought we could get a ground ball from him and get an out," Davey Martinez explained. "And then decide what they wanted to do. I mean, they had (Garrett) Stubbs. And we looked at Stubbs and, I guess Cishek, flyball guy. So he did get jammed. Like I said, he hit a ground ball.”

Ehire Adrianza hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 10th, but that wasn’t enough in extras as a long day on South Capitol Street came to a conclusion.

A brutal way to extend a losing streak.

“It's tough. It's tough," Davey Martinez said. "Look, umpires, they have a job to do, but my goodness. Seriously.”

The way this week has gone for the Nationals, it’s understandable that the pitching staff is a little beat up. A doubleheader doesn’t help matters. What also doesn’t help is using the big boys in the first game (a loss) and then having to use them again in the second game to try to preserve a win.

Carl Edwards Jr. threw 20 pitches and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh this afternoon. Kyle Finnegan threw 12 pitches in the eighth. And even though he didn’t enter the game, Tanner Rainey warmed up in both the eighth and ninth innings.

Tonight, Edwards needed 10 pitches to get out of a clean seventh. Finnegan wasn’t as good. Looking gassed on the mound and facing the top of the Phillies lineup, the right-hander could not hold onto a 5-3 lead.

After a leadoff walk to Schwarber and a lineout by Hoskins, Finnegan seemed to get out of the inning on a nicely turned double play by García and second baseman Adrianza on a Realmuto grounder. But after a Phillies challenge, Realmuto was ruled safe at first, leaving runners on the corners for pinch-hitter Bryce Harper.

You can probably guess what happened next.

After falling behind 3-0 and deciding not to walk the former National, Finnegan served up a two-run double to Harper, tying the game and firing up the visitors dugout. Davey Martinez brought in Tanner Rainey to strike out Alec Bohm and leave the damage at that.

“Yeah, he threw him four balls," Davey Martinez said of Finnegan's at-bat against Harper. "Even the one called a strike was a ball. And then I don't know what happened that last pitch.”

The Nats were able to put runners on the corners with two outs in the bottom of the frame, but García couldn’t come through and struck out on three pitches.

Matt Vierling then homered in the top of the ninth off Rainey for his second longball of the game – and just his third of the season – to give the Phillies a 6-5 lead.

As they have done all season, the Nats continued to battle, and brought the tying run to the plate twice in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to a Yadiel Hernandez pinch-hit single against the shift. Thomas struck out to bring up Soto against left-hander José Alvarado. Soto was able to draw a walk and put pinch-runner César Hernández in scoring position.

Nelson Cruz hit a grounder and Didi Gregorius, now playing shortstop after pinch-hitting in the top of the inning, threw it away, allowing César Hernández to score, tying the game and leaving Soto as the winning run 90 feet away. An intentional walk to Josh Bell, already with two home runs and three RBIs in the game, loaded the bases and brought up Keibert Ruiz, who grounded out to send the game to extra innings.

“We fought. We fought both games," Davey Martinez said. "We had a chance to win the second game. Just couldn't hold the lead. But we fought back. We fought back again. We just couldn't score a run to tie it or finish it. So like I said, we got to keep playing hard, we gotta keep playing hard. We got to limit some mental mistakes. So get back here early tomorrow and get ready for another game.”

For all that has been said about the state of the Nationals pitching staff (and a lot has been said of that, rightfully so during this long homestand), the offense could also provide some support by scoring runs and giving leads.

Bell gave the home team an early lead with his solo home run leading off the second inning, his second of the day and third in as many games. Batting right-handed against Phillies left-hander Bailey Falter, Bell sent a 91.1 mph fastball 426 feet to straightaway center, smoking the ball 105.7 mph off his bat.

With the game tied at 1-1 in the third after Vierling responded with his first solo shot, the Nats’ sloppy play in the field reared its ugly head again. A walk and wild pitch by Paolo Espino put a runner on second base, and then García fielded a grounder by Schwarber up the middle. After looking at the runner going to third, the shortstop finally decided to throw to first. But with all of the time in the world, he missed Bell by a lot for a two-bag error and an unearned run to put the Phillies up 2-1.

Schwarber would eventually come around to score with the Phillies leading 3-1 by inning’s end, leaving Espino with three runs and only two earned.

Although we’ve seen the Nationals let games slip away due to their own mistakes too many times, Bell delivered again in the fourth to keep the Nats in this one. After Cruz drew a leadoff walk, Bell tied the game with a two-run longball over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field. It was his second homer of the game, third of the day and fourth in two days, keeping him as hot at the plate as today’s 91-degree gametime temperature.

Bell finished the day 3-for-6 with four runs scored, five RBIs, three walks, one strikeout and three home runs over the twinbill. Per STATS, since RBIs became an official stat in 1920, Bell is the only major league player to hit three-plus homers, drive in five-plus runs and draw three-plus walks on a single day and yet not have a victory to show for it.

As we’ve also seen before: When García commits an error in the field, he sometimes makes up for it with his bat. Back-to-back walks and a wild pitch put Cruz and Bell in scoring position with nobody out in the sixth. Maikel Franco’s sacrifice fly gave the Nats a one-run lead, and then García’s RBI double made it a two-run lead at 5-3.

The Nationals needed something of a repeat of what Joan Adon was able to accomplish in today’s first game: Four runs over five innings on 97 pitches. They got an improvement from Espino, who completed five innings on a season-high 89 pitches while only allowing two earned runs (three total).

Espino did labor throughout much of the outing, getting himself into a fair amount of 3-2 counts and issuing four walks. He also, however, struck out five batters, and if not for a costly error in the third by García, he might have come away with even better results.

But Espino provided the length the Nationals needed for the second half of this doubleheader. It was the bullpen that didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, leaving it in an unknown status for the rest of the weekend.

“Espino was good," his manager said. "He kept us in the ballgame. He threw the ball. We had him penciled in for about four (innings) and 70 (pitches). But he said he felt really good. He went out there for the fifth inning and did a good job. So hopefully now, he's stretched out. So every five days he'll get out there.”

The Nationals have now lost 12 straight to divisional rivals, all four opponents doing their part to put down their foe from Washington, and are an abysmal 5-24 against the National League East this season.

With the doubleheader sweep, the Nats are 23-45 and riding a seven-game losing streak.

“The key is to go out there and keep playing," Soto said. "You just got to keep positive. The season doesn't end right here. We just got to keep going. It's a long season. We got to keep going. It's just the first half of the season. So we have a lot of much more games to play and a lot of wins to come. So just keep playing.”

A first-time honor fitting for Zimmerman
Game 68 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies
 

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