In the end, it all boils down to execution. Last night, in the ninth inning, the Washington Nationals didn’t and the New York Mets did. As a result, the Mets stretched their early season record to 4-0, sending the Nats (2-2) to a 4-3 loss to start the three-game series at Citifield.
Henry Rodriguez was tasked with pitching the ninth inning of a tied ballgame after getting the last out of the eighth, striking out pinch-hitter Scott Hairston with a nasty breaking pitch. But Rodriguez walked pinch-hitter Mike Baxter to start the ninth. Then, shortstop Ruben Tejada laid down a sacrifice right out in front of the plate. Rodriguez (L, 0-1) looked at second, then short-armed a lackadaisical throw to first, which got past Danny Espinosa covering on the play.
Tejada actually smacked Espinosa in the head on his way through the bag, but Espinosa recovered to fire a strike back to third, nearly nailing Baxter, who was stopped by third base coach Tim Teufel. No matter, as Daniel Murphy lined a single to right to plate Baxter with the winning run two pitches later.
The Nats had their chance in the ninth against former Nats pitcher Jon Rauch. Rauch walked Steve Lombardozzi leading off, which brought up Ian Desmond. But again, poor execution cost the Nats, as Desmond pushed his bunt up the first base line, making an easy play for Murphy covering to get the lead runner.
Following the botched sacrifice attempt, Danny Espinosa struck out for his third time of the night and Ryan Zimmerman grounded to second to end the threat.
As has been the case in each game the Nats have played thus far, this one was a tightly contested, low scoring affair. Edwin Jackson started for the Nats and gave up three earned runs on four hits and two walks in five innings, striking out six. Tom Gorzelanny followed, and though he put five base runners on in 2 2/3 innings, he did not allow a run to score.
The Nats had their way early on Mike Pelfrey, the Mets starting pitcher, getting one in the first on Adam LaRoche’s RBI single, following hits by Espinosa and Zimmerman. Though they had him on the ropes, Jayson Werth struck out and Mark DeRosa grounded out to end the threat.
They almost forced Pelfrey out of the game in the third. The Nats scored twice and looked poised for a big inning. But LaRoche was called out stretching another RBI base hit into a double — the replay showed he was clearly safe. Werth then tripled to dead center in the next at bat (which would have scored LaRoche), but DeRosa grounded out once again to leave Werth stranded at third.
All told, the Nats got 10 hits and a walk off Pelfrey in his 5 2/3 innings, but just three runs. Washington did not record another hit after the big right-hander left the game.
THE GOOD: Adam LaRoche. 2-for-3, walk. Two RBIs. He just continued his torrid start.
THE BAD: Mark DeRosa. 0-for-4, left three runners stranded in the first and third innings. A clutch two-out hit in the third might have driven Pelfrey out of this game.
THE UGLY: Hot Rod. Who else? This is the Henry Rodriguez everyone fears when he comes in the game. The lead-off walk. The wild throw to first. The loss of confidence. This was the definition of “meltdown.”
THE STATS: 10 hits, four walks, 10 strikeouts. 2-for-9 with RISP, nine LOB. E: LaRoche (1), Rodriguez (1).
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:10 pm against the Mets. Ross Detwiler (4-5, 3.00 in ’11) faces Dillon Gee (13-6, 4.43 in ’11).