Miscues hurt Nats in bizarre finale loss at Fenway (updated)

BOSTON – Today felt like it was going to be a weird day at Fenway Park. The Nationals and Red Sox had played two quick, nondescript games to start this three-game series. Plus, it was Mother’s Day.

Something a little more interesting had to happen, right?

Well, something more interesting definitely happened and then some as the Nats fell to the Red Sox 3-2 in the series finale in front of 29,250 fans.

"We made some mistakes," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "A dropped fly ball, ran into some outs on the bases and it cost us. It might have cost us the game, you don't know that. But when you make those kinds of mistakes, it's definitely gonna hamper the way you finish the game.

The wackiness started from the get-go.

CJ Abrams singled up the middle on Brayan Bello’s first pitch of the game. Abrams appeared to have swiped his ninth bag of the year. But after a Red Sox challenge, he was called out, caught stealing for the third time this season. He was caught just four times all of last year.

Bello, returning from the injured list with right lat tightness today, needed only five pitches to complete the first inning. He threw more warm-up pitches during the challenge review.

Romy Gonzalez singled on MacKenzie Gore’s first pitch in the bottom half of the inning, but the left-hander struck out the next three batters on a fastball, curveball and slider to post a zero. However, he needed 20 pitches to finish his first frame.

Rosario drew a two-out walk in the second and broke for second. He was thrown out 2-6 and argued Gonzalez was blocking the bag when he slid in, but to no avail.

Then the bottom of the second got really weird.

A walk and a single put the first two runners on base. Then a flyout to center by Vaughn Grissom seemed to be the first out of the inning. But Victor Robles, playing center field for the first time since returning from the IL, dropped the ball while trying to also throw out the runner attempting to tag up to third, loading the bases with no outs.

"It's something I personally can't even explain myself. I still can't believe it," Robles said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I take so many fly balls out there and catch so many of them. It was such a routine fly ball, I just have no excuse for dropping that ball.”

The Nats caught a break when Jarren Duran hit a 49.1 mph chopper right in front of home for the first out. But then the Red Sox caught a break when Ceddanne Rafaela hit a ball that landed just fair and bounced into the crowd by the Pesky Pole for a ground-rule double and a 2-0 lead. The ball came 73 mph off the bat and had an expected batting average of .140.

"It's difficult in this right field. It's just got a different makeup out there," Rosario said via Martinez. "Generally, it's a blooper that a lot of times maybe gets caught or it's a base hit. But in this ballpark, it became a double. But we have to adapt to where we're playing and, unfortunately, that landed.”

The Red Sox increased it to 3-0 when Gore threw a 1-1 wild pitch to Gonzalez in the next at-bat. Gonzalez swung at the ball in the dirt to supposedly make the count 1-2. But after Gore’s next pitch was called a ball, home plate umpire Brian O’Nora announced the count was 3-1 instead of 2-2.

Gore tried to correct the mistake and Davey Martinez came out to talk to O’Nora about the count. But seemingly without a conversation with the other umpires or league offices in New York, O’Nora stuck with the 3-1 count.

“They just called it a ball," Gore said. "Said it was a ball on that wild pitch.”

Gore pumped two 98 mph fastballs in the next two pitches for the strikeout, giving out a loud yell after the punchout. O’Nora thought Gore was talking to him and tried to engage with him, but Riley Adams and Martinez stood up for their pitcher and nothing more came of it. Adams seemingly continued the conversation with O’Nora after the third out was recorded.

"It was interesting," Gore said. "I can't really talk much about it, but it was very interesting.”

“We thought it was 2-2, he said it was 3-1," Davey Martinez said. "The guy swung, and he was adamant that the count was 3-1. So we just couldn't do nothing about it. He said he asked the first base umpire. We didn't see that. But MacKenzie came back, settled in and struck him out. And then all sudden, MacKenzie got emotional and I just had to go out there and tell the umpire, 'Hey, the kid's that way. He gets emotional, so just let him be.' And Brian was good with it.”

Despite the unfortunate inning, the Nats tried to get right back in the game in the third.

Adams singled leading off and Robles reached on an error by Garrett Cooper, when the first baseman’s glove knocked into him by the bag. Abrams followed with another single to right, but Robles didn’t see third base coach Ricky Gutierrez holding Adams at third and got caught in a rundown. Luis García Jr. then grounded out to end the threat.

“As soon as the base hit was hit, I was the whole time looking to go to third base, get an extra base out of it," Robles said. "But it was my mistake that as soon as I saw they hit the ball - it was hit very well - and as I'm running around second base, I never looked up to look for Riley. Just saw the ball and I just didn't know. It was by mistake.”

"I'm gonna be totally honest with you: I wanted to take him out of the game," Davey Martinez said of Robles' mistakes. "And I couldn't because (Jesse) Winker was hurt a little bit. I knew that he had back spasms. That can't happen. That can't happen. Like I said, it changed the game a little bit there. We could have been out of that inning (on the error). Those are the things that, as I talk about with Luis García being here so long that we had to clean up, we got to clean those things up with him as well. That just can't happen anymore.”

Despite the miscues, seemingly a recurring issue with the eight-year veteran outfielder, Robles said Gore and his teammates had his back in the dugout.

"I appreciate (that) MacKenzie came up to me and gave me his support, as well as most of the team," he said. "So that kind of got me going and lifted me up a little bit and I appreciate that.”

Things seemed to settle down from there.

Gore pitched only one clean inning over his next four, but didn’t allow any more runs to score. With a runner on third, two outs, the righty Rafaela due up, Gore’s pitch count already at 106 and Derek Law warming in the bullpen, Martinez came out for a conversation on the mound. But the young lefty talked his way into one more batter and rewarded his manager’s faith with a strikeout on an inside curveball in the dirt.

"MacKenzie settled down and he pitched really, really well. He threw the ball well," Davey Martinez said. "I went out to talk to him there just to kind of give him a breather. But he was the guy to finish that inning out. He did really well.”

Gore finished six innings with six hits, three runs (two earned), two walks, nine strikeouts and two wild pitches on a career-high 111 pitches, 71 for strikes.

“Just some execution with two strikes, understanding the hitter and what they do well, and where the ball needs to be," Gore said of what he could do better. "But like I said, it was just as good as a whole outing-wise. We just gotta try to keep getting better.”

The Nats would finally get on the board in the fourth on Eddie Rosario’s two-run home run. With Nick Senzel on first after a walk, Rosario hit a first-pitch changeup right down the middle 380 feet into the Red Sox bullpen in center field. Rafaela attempted to make a leaping catch, but flipped over the wall like Nats prospect Daylen Lile did at Fenway South in spring training. Rafaela wasn’t injured on the play, however, and stayed in the game.

A notoriously slow starter, Rosario slashed .053/.115/.070 with zero home runs and zero RBIs in April. After that home run, he was slashing.435/.536/1.000 with four home runs and seven RBIs in May.

“I'm not going up there looking for them," Rosario said. "I'm just trying to focus on good at-bats and making good hard contact. Luckily to start off this month, I've had a few home runs, so just trying to stay with the same game plan and focus on doing what I can at the plate.”

But the Nats couldn’t put together any more offense. Senzel did lead off the seventh with his second walk, but was picked off when he tripped getting back to the bag. That proved to be costly because Rosario followed with his second walk of the game and Adams was hit by a pitch two batters later. Rosario and Adams were both in scoring position after each stealing a bag (the catcher’s first stolen base of his big league career and first in his pro career since he was in the Blue Jays minor league system in 2019) for Robles. But the outfielder couldn’t redeem himself, flying out to left.

“That's where we are, right? We made some mistakes out there, but like I said, we're gonna push the envelope," Davey Martinez said. "That's the kind of baseball we play. Today it didn't work out. … Those things are gonna happen. I'm more concerned about our hitting a little bit again. We got to start staying in the middle of the field, getting better pitches to hit. We're starting to chase again. So we gotta get in the middle of the field, start getting the balls up and start hitting the ball hard. When we get a chance to score runs, we gotta capitalize on those opportunities.”

Now the Nationals head to the South Side of Chicago to face a different shade of Sox, as this nine-game road trip continues with three games against the White Sox, who are owners of the worst record in the American League.

"We're competing. This one was frustrating as a group, but we're gonna be alright," Gore said. "We just got to clean up a few things here and there. ... We're gonna be alright. We have a game tomorrow to try to win.”

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