For the second day in a row, the Washington Nationals (20-17) were reminded of why, in baseball, it all comes down to the fundamentals.
With the Chicago Cubs (15-22) and Nats tied 1-1 in the ninth, Alfonso Soriano led off against Rafael Soriano with a single to left before pinch-hitter Julio Borbon followed up with a single of his own. With one out, the Cubs successfully ran the double steal with Wellington Castillo batting. Much to the Nats’ misfortune, however, Kurt Suzuki threw so far left of third base on the play that he bounced the ball into foul territory, allowing Alfonso Soriano to score the only go-ahead run the Cubs would need.
Once more, the win-loss column didn’t do justice for the Nats’ pitching performances.
Gio Gonzalez (ND, 3-2) retired the first 15 batters he faced before finally giving up a single to Dioner Navarro in the sixth. In seven innings pitched, he allowed only two hits—both singles—and one walk, and struck out six, throwing 55 of 86 pitches for strikes.
In fact, the sixth inning turned out to be the only inning in which Gonzalez wasn’t perfect. And yet, Nationals manager Davey Johnson opted to pull him for the eighth.
The only run support the Nats’ batting order provided came in the very first inning. Denard Span doubled to center to lead off before Steve Lombardozzi—who started in left field—popped out to first. Bryce Harper walked to send Ryan Zimmerman to the batter’s box with one out.
On a 1-1 count, Zimmerman socked a 92 MPH sinker to right to plate Span and give the Nats a 1-0 lead that went untouched under Gonzalez’s watch. The Nats had a golden opportunity to expand their lead once Ian Desmond drew a two-out walk, but Danny Espinosa flied out to left to dash all hopes of an early rout.
The Cubs’ tying run arrived in the eighth off Drew Storen. Navarro singled once more to lead off before pinch-runner Travis Wood advanced on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Darwin Barney. Pinch-hitter David DeJesus popped to first to push Wood to third before Starlin Castro brought him home on a single up the middle.
Cody Ransom singled as well in the inning, but Storen forced Anthony Rizzo to ground out to end the inning.
The Nats failed to threaten in their final two innings of play and, regardless of the fact that he didn’t allow an earned run to score, Rafael Soriano emerged the loser of Sunday’s matchup. With the loss, the Nats dropped their series against the Cubs 2-1 ahead of a 10-game road stretch.
Cubs’ left-hander James Russell (1-0) emerged the winner after tossing one inning of hit-less relief for Chicago.
Starter Scott Feldman earned a final line of 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB and 6 K for the no decision.
THE GOOD: There’s no need for embellishment—Gio Gonzalez came up just shy of perfect against the Cubs. Regardless of how much confidence Davey Johnson has in the Nationals’ bullpen, one has to wonder the thought process behind pulling Gonzalez after he tossed yet another perfect inning and reached a total of just 86 pitches.
THE BAD: The Nats left a total of eight runners on base Sunday afternoon and went just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
THE UGLY: Errors can be game-changers and, for the second time in a row, an error swung the ballgame into the Cubs’ favor.
In the bottom of the ninth, home plate umpire John Tumpane called out Kurt Suzuki on a third strike that appeared, by all but Tumpane’s account, to fall outside the strike zone. Suzuki’s frustrations (presumably from his throwing error) bubbled over as the Nats catcher began shouting at the ump, who wasted little time ejecting Suzuki from the game. It marked Suzuki’s first career ejection.
THE STATS: 1 R, 5 H, 4 BB, 9 K, 1 GIDP, 1-for-9 RISP, 8 LOB
NEXT GAME: Monday, 10:10 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium: RHP Josh Beckett (0-4) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (6-1)