Thursday’s afternoon series finale against the Mets gave the Nationals a chance to win their first home series of the 2022 season. Coming into the game, they were 0-3-1 in series taking place at Nationals Park.
Although this game started much like Wednesday’s affair, with the Mets jumping out to an early lead in the first inning, this time the Nats could not pull off a comeback.
The inability to get deep into the game by the starting pitcher and horrendous baserunning by the offense resulted in a 4-1 loss to the Mets in front of 21,213 fans still waiting to witness a series win.
This game was won and lost, first and foremost, on the mound. Nationals starter Joan Adon did not throw strikes. Mets starter Taijuan Walker did.
“I felt a little weird," Adon said after the game, via team interpreter Octavio Martinez. "But I mean, that's part of how things go sometimes.”
As the Nationals fell behind 3-0 in the first inning Wednesday night, they fell behind 2-0 in the first this afternoon. Adon issued three walks to load the bases and gave up a two-run single to Mark Canha to put his team in an early deficit.
“Ever since I started warming up, I just felt like I couldn't find the zone today for some reason," said Adon. "Even as I was warming up, it's hard to explain, just couldn't find the zone.”
Adon needed 37 pitches, only 18 of which were strikes, to get out of the first inning and he did not improve much from there. The Mets then scored another run in the top of the fourth.
With a runner on third, Maikel Franco and Dee Strange-Gordon – playing shortstop again for Alcides Escobar – couldn't reach a grounder from Tomás Nido, allowing the runner to score.
Manager Davey Martinez decided to go to his bullpen with Adon’s high pitch count and lack of control with his team down 3-0.
The final line for 23-year-old right-hander: 3 2/3 innings, three hits, three runs, five walks, two strikeouts, one hit batter and one wild pitch on 84 pitches, 44 strikes. Not an encouraging outing by the rookie, who saw his ERA rise to 7.03.
"He couldn't repeat his delivery," Davey Martinez said of Adon's outing. "He was flying open. A lot of arm-side misses. A lot of yanked curveballs. Like I said, he just couldn't really get into his body. And mechanically, he just wasn't there today.”
Meanwhile, Walker put together a gem for Buck Showalter’s club, shutting out the Nationals over seven innings while holding them to three hits. The only knocks: Josh Bell’s single in the first, Juan Soto’s double in the fourth and Lane Thomas’ single in the sixth.
The Soto leadoff double went from an opportunity to get on the board to another shabingus on the basepaths for the Nats. After Bell hit a grounder to third baseman Luis Guillorme, Soto inexplicably took off and got caught in a rundown for a 5-6-1 putout. That did allow Bell to reach second base, but he tried to advance again when the throw by Walker went into right field. And with Soto still on the ground in front of the bag, Bell couldn't reach the base and was put out 9-6. Not officially a double play, but undoubtedly a bad sequence by the home team.
“It wasn't good," said Davey Martinez bluntly. "Juan thought he was going to backhand the ball deeper in the hole, he thought he could make it third. JB slid into second, saw the ball go by him and he thought it's out in the outfield so he just took off running. So just took us out of a big inning right there. I mean, we're down. I think Juan's got to see the ball through right there and hold off. So I talked to him about it. JB, once again, just trying to be overly aggressive. But those are two big mistakes. We had a chance with some of our big hitters up there to drive in some runs, and we ran into two outs.”
Soto admitted he misread the grounder, but thought third base was obstructed during the rundown.
“I just make an error running the bases," he said. "I told the guys I'm sorry, I thought he hit the ball harder. And I was thinking he gonna cut it backhanded. But ... he's coming in for the ball. So I was just caught in the middle of nothing. I tried to do the rundown, so try to see if JB can make it to second base. But it was just tough.”
He then pleaded his case to third base umpire Tripp Gibson.
“I'm just trying to tell him that he was in my way. I tried to slide," said Soto. "I mean, I wasn't trying to hurt him or anything like that. I don't want to try to tackle him. So he gotta give me room to at least slide on the base. And he just told me just tough play, tough call.”
Bell, on the other hand, thought he was going to run home to score when the ball sailed into right field.
“Honestly, from my vantage point, I was thinking I was going to score because I didn't think (Starling) Marte was going to be right there," said Bell. "I thought there was going to be outfielders chasing that ball. So I was looking at (Francisco) Lindor and I thought he's, like, trying to deke me with holding this glove up. So I wasn't really looking at Juan, I wasn't looking at (third base coach Gary DiSarcina). I just saw the glove go up. And when he caught it, I was like, 'No way.' And then I knew what happened. But yeah, so Juan wasn't in the way for a slide, I was just out.”
Walker then cruised through the rest of the outing, finishing the seven innings on 85 pitches, 56 strikes.
Again, the Mets starter threw strikes. The Nationals starter did not.
For good measure, Canha hit a home run on Steve Cishek’s second pitch in the top of the ninth to make it 4-0. But Soto came back in the bottom of the frame with this eighth homer of the season (another solo shot) to ensure the Nationals wouldn't be shut out.
“I just see a straight fastball," Soto said of his homer off Edwin Díaz. "I didn't even know how fast it was. I just see straight fastball coming at me and I just started to make contact. I know he got pretty good fastball. So I just tried to be ready and tried to take my swing.”
When informed the pitch was 101 mph, Soto replied: "I'm happy for it."
This loss leaves the Nationals at 11-22 on the season and 4-13 at home. With the 20-11 Astros coming to D.C. this weekend for the first time since the 2019 World Series, it will be fun to reminisce about happier times. But the 2022 edition of the Nats needs to find a way to play better at home and start winning some games.
"It's just mentality. I mean the game is not easy," said Bell. "You know the guy on the bump is paid to get us out. But we know that if we can get things rolling, especially early, things can kind of tumble, snowfall for us. So if we can get the bats going early, like Juan last night, homer to get us back in the game, and we can answer and respond, then good things happen. But it starts tomorrow with the 'Stros."