Sloppy play dooms Nationals in Sunday loss to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO - There were two uncharacteristic mistakes in the field that led to two runs. There was an uncharacteristic sequence of bad baserunning that might have cost them a run. There was an uncharacteristic display of emotion by Ryan Zimmerman after fans at AT&T Park were getting on him in the bottom of the ninth.

And there was an all-too-characteristic lack of hits in key spots, all of which contributed to a 3-1 loss for the Nationals and a four-game series split with the Giants that easily could have been a series win over a quality opponent had they done a few more little things right.

“We’ve got to tighten up our game,” manager Dusty Baker said, summing up the entire picture.

zimmerman-gray-swing-sidebar.jpgWinners in the series’ first two games, the Nationals were in position to take either of this weekend’s tilts. But they lost Saturday after giving up two late runs, and then they lost today after being unable to make up for their early mistakes.

The most egregious gaffes came in the field, with Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon each committing throwing errors on plays that could have ended innings without runs crossing the plate.

Turner’s flip to Danny Espinosa on a tailor-made, 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third was wild, preventing Espinosa from even getting his foot on the bag and leaving everybody safe. Two innings later, Rendon had a routine throw to first that would have ended the frame with a runner stranded on second, but he skipped it past Zimmerman and toward the railing to bring another run home.

Those were the only two runs surrendered by Gio Gonzalez, who was sharp for six innings but wound up getting charged with the loss.

“They’ve been good all year,” Gonzalez said of his defense. “It’s just one of those situations where you turn the page and move forward. These guys, they’ve been doing this all year, having a great year. Just a couple bumps in the road. It don’t matter.”

The Nationals entered play today having allowed only 25 unearned runs this season, third-fewest in the National League.

“Usually, we don’t do that,” Baker said. “Gio should have fared a lot better than that.”

Gonzalez did keep the damage to a minimum and gave his team a chance to make up for the two gift-wrapped runs, but the Nationals failed to capitalize on a day when they didn’t have very many scoring opportunities.

Washington didn’t even manage a hit through five innings against Matt Cain, the one-time All-Star who has battled injuries and poor performance in recent years and on this afternoon walked four batters while racking up a pitch count of 93, forcing manager Bruce Bochy to pull him with a no-hitter intact.

“Cain wasn’t throwing like the Cain that we knew,” Baker said. “But, he pitched smart.”

The Nationals did have a chance to tie the game once the Giants turned to their bullpen, getting an RBI double from Rendon in the top of the sixth off George Kontos. And when Zimmerman followed with a line drive single to left, they appeared to be in business.

But Rendon, unsure if left fielder Mac Williamson would be able to make the catch running in, held up off second base. The ball landed well in front of Williamson, but Rendon could only run back to the bag at that point, failing to advance despite the base hit. Moments later, Williamson dropped Chris Heisey’s routine popup, but still threw to third in time to force the helpless Rendon out.

“It’s a tough read for Anthony,” Baker said of the line drive. “If he comes in and he catches it, then Anthony’s doubled off. By the time he made up his mind, it was too late. And those things are always magnified in a game when you’re not scoring runs, you’re not getting a lot of hits.”

The Nationals didn’t get many hits, only three of them to be precise, and they all came in that sixth inning. They did have other opportunities, including in the ninth when Giants closer Santiago Casilla drilled Zimmerman in the left wrist with a pitch. Zimmerman went down in a heap, and though he eventually made it to first base, the Giants challenged the call to see if the ball had actually hit his bat instead.

Fans behind the Nationals’ dugout started jeering at Zimmerman, suggesting the .222-hitting first baseman was faking the injury. But when officials in New York confirmed the initial call, Zimmerman walked back to first base and started waving sarcastically at the crowd, even doffing his cap in a rare display of emotion from the veteran.

“That’s one thing I would never do, fake something like that,” he said. “I think I have more respect for the game. Even if I’m hitting .100, I’m not going to fake my way on base. I don’t know, I was just obviously ... fired up because I got hit. It’s usually something I don’t do, but whatever. Maybe they enjoyed it.”

Zimmerman said he underwent tests on his wrist after the game, but he didn’t know the results yet.

“It’s sore,” he said. “But, we just have to kind of wait and see with these things.”

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