NEW YORK – What was already the Nationals’ worst night in weeks, strictly from a performance standpoint, turned worse in the bottom of the seventh at Yankee Stadium.
A 9-1 loss to New York included a disastrous second inning for MacKenzie Gore and a defense behind him that was tough to watch, but that paled in comparison to the sight of Stone Garrett being carted off the field in tears after suffering what appeared to be a serious lower left leg injury.
The Nationals, who had won 20 of their last 30 and were trying to deal the Yankees their first 10-game losing streak in 110 years, were far more distraught about their young outfielder, whose promising season may have come to a devastating conclusion as he tried to make a spectacular catch to rob DJ LeMahieu of a homer that barely cleared the fence in right.
"Just one of those situations ... just sucks to see ... praying for him," Gore, one of Garrett's closest friends on the team, said as he unsuccessfully tried to hold back tears, needing to step away for a minute to compose himself.
His team already trailing by six runs at the time, Garrett raced back to the wall in search of LeMahieu’s deep drive. He planted his left foot in the padded wall to get leverage for his leap, then fell to the ground and writhed in pain as LeMahieu circled the bases and a crowd of 37,266 roared before fully realizing what happened.
Garrett waited for manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard to reach him, along with teammates and a medic carrying an emergency pack. After a seven-minute wait inside a hushed stadium, Garrett finally was helped up, his left leg in an air cast, as Lessard and a Yankees trainer helped him to a waiting cart.
As teammates came over to wish him well, Garrett – who had produced a .941 OPS over his last 38 games to force his way into the regular lineup – was in tears, then covered his face underneath a towel before being carted off the field to applause from the crowd.
"When he went down like that, my heart dropped," Martinez said. "He was wincing, he was pretty hurt. Hopefully he's OK. ... He's one of our clubhouse favorites. I love the kid. I hope everything's OK."
Martinez said the team would have to wait for X-ray and MRI results to know the full extent of the injury, though he said the initial sense was that Garrett hurt his lower leg, not his ankle.
Garrett actually was still at the ballpark after the game and was able to shower and be helped back to his locker by Lessard, his leg wrapped and protected as teammates approached him to offer support.
"It's tough. Emotional for him," said center fielder Lane Thomas, who was first to reach Garrett after he fell. "Seeing somebody that happens to is not fun, either. Luckily, he's all right."
A stunned Nationals team tried to refocus on baseball but were left to play out the string of a blowout loss, one in which Aaron Judge hit three homers while the Nats lineup managed only two hits.
"Not easy," shortstop CJ Abrams said of resuming the game. "We're all thinking about it. Just kept going."
A five-run bottom of the second was the low point of the night from a baseball standpoint as a particularly damaging combination – atrocious defense and a bad pitch thrown to the best power hitter on the planet – spelled immediate doom.
Gore was the man on the mound during the disastrous bottom of the second, but he wasn’t the only one to blame for what happened. Had his defense made the plays it was supposed to make, the inning would’ve ended after four batters, with zero runs crossing the plate.
A leadoff single surrendered to Harrison Bader put Gore in the stretch right away, and Bader used his speed to put himself in prime position to score, stealing second and then taking third as Ildemaro Vargas threw across the diamond to retire Anthony Volpe.
But Gore then did exactly what he needed to do with one out and a runner on third: He induced a grounder hit directly at a drawn-in CJ Abrams, who immediately fired to the plate. The problem: Abrams’ throw was low and skipped off the dirt. Keibert Ruiz briefly had it in his mitt, but not long enough to get the tag down on Bader, who scored on what was ruled a fielder’s choice and not an error on either Abrams or Ruiz.
"It's baseball," Abrams said. "Things didn't go our way that inning. It happens."
Kyle Higashioka, the Yankees’ next batter, skied a ball to right-center that should’ve been an easy flyout. But neither Thomas nor Garrett initially could find the ball in the lights before both located it and called for it without hearing the other. Both tried to make the catch. Neither did, with Garrett charged with the error because the ball glanced off his glove.
"We lost it at first," Thomas said. "We both kind of found it at the same time. I called it a little bit earlier than him. He called it late. It's just one of those tough ones."
Gore, still on the mound, still with only one out recorded, walked No. 9 hitter Oswald Peraza but struck out LeMahieu. That brought Judge to the plate, seeking his second homer in as many innings. Gore gave up the first on a hanging curveball. This time, he tried to pump a fastball by Judge but left it over the heart of the plate and watched it sail to center for the grand slam that made this a 6-0 game, even though only two of the runs were earned.
"Just left some pitches over the heart of the plate to a good hitter," the lefty said. "Tough inning. Just a tough day for us."
To his credit, Gore settled in nicely after that, the Yankees putting only two more runners on base against him, one via a bloop single and the other via a ground ball that scooted directly through Abrams’ legs at shortstop. He retired the last seven batters he faced, pulled at the end of the fourth with his pitch count at 80.
It wasn’t exactly a good start for Gore, but neither was it as bad as it sounded.
"He's facing one of the best hitters in the game, one of the best power hitters in the game," Martinez said. "He came back after that and threw some good innings. ... He competes. He got frustrated there a little bit, but came back out and gave us a couple more innings and pitched well after that."
It also may not have mattered, because the Nationals lineup did next to nothing at the plate despite a seemingly advantageous matchup against Luis Severino, who entered with a 7.98 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. Ruiz recorded the only hit off the Yankees starter, with Abrams later adding a single off reliever Ian Hamilton before Dominic Smith homered off the foul pole with two outs in the ninth.
None of that, however, felt significant once Garrett went down with an injury that will haunt this team’s minds for some time.
"No one wants to see that," Abrams said. "It hurt watching. I just hope he gets better soon."