What a gut-wrenching game.
It started out as great as you could hope; scoring 3 runs in the first inning and igniting the largest crowd in Nats history. The offense finally strung together a series of big hits from the top of our order against the same pitcher (Adam Wainwright) who shut us down so easily in the first game of the series. The Nats offense woke up again in the 3rd and bounced Wainwright (the same guy that pundits expected to completely shut the team down again). You can’t blow a 6-0 lead, can you? Here’s a stat; on the Season the Nats were exactly 45-6 when scoring 6 or more runs. But they’ve also coughed up larger leads; they blew a 9 run lead in Atlanta in July in a game that looked eerily similar to last night’s game; get a big lead, your starter gives up a few innocuous runs, then the bullpen slowly leaks runs until its all over.
Gio Gonzalez wasn’t really that effective, all told. His final line: 5ip, 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 runs (all earned). In the first inning he honestly looked startled on the mound, scared to be there. He scuffled through the first inning looking tentative and got bailed out by some slightly over-aggressive hitting from the top of St. Louis’ order. He did pitch with better confidence the next couple of innings (who wouldn’t with a 3-0 first inning and 6-0 third inning lead?). He was definitely commanding his curve ball far better than in game 1 and was keeping St. Louis at bay. However a lead-off walk burned him in the 4th for the first run, and then a complete meltdown in the 5th from Gio turned into two more runs. His 5th inning line is as ugly as it gets for a starter; Double-Single-Walk-run scoring wild pitch-walk-walk to force in a run before finally getting the 3rd out.
Here’s where the bullpen just failed to get the job done. Edwin Jackson walks the lead-off guy and he scores, making it 6-4. The Jordan Zimmermann experiment from game 4 couldn’t be replicated, costing the team a run. I can’t second-guess the move though; it had worked so well the night before. Tyler Clippard gives up a home-run to Daniel Descalso to make it 6-5. And of course we know what happened to Drew Storen, who picked a really bad time to match his career worst outing, giving up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in the 9th. And the big hits didn’t come from the middle of St. Louis’ order; it was Descalco and Pete Kozma of all people getting the clutch hits.
My dad pointed out an interesting question; Storen was sharp last night but not tonight; could it be because he threw three straight games? Storen had appeared in 3 straight games twice before this season but didn’t pitch full innings each time. In this series he threw an inning each in games 1, 3,4 and 5. His pitch count by game? 10,11, 26, and last night’s 33 pitch debacle. Dad’s specific complaint was about the use of Storen in the blow-out game 3. Why waste an inning there when you pretty much well know you’re going to need your 8th and 9th inning stars both subsequent nights? Is it possible that Storen was just a bit gassed from the cumulative effects of a 26 pitch outing the previous night AND having pitched three consecutive days?
Another pet peeve of mine; how do you let Descalso steal second base un-challenged in the 9th? Yes there’s two outs, but that put him in scoring position to tack on an extra run on the subsequent single. If you hold that guy on, maybe you throw him out and get the 3rd out right there before the Cards get the lead. He certainly doesn’t score on a single to RF. This isn’t a problem just with Storen; the Nats pitching staff is notoriously bad at holding runners. In the end, that extra run didn’t really matter … but it could have mattered if Suzuki threw the guy out before the go-ahead single, right?
There’s not much else to say in the way of analysis; the Nats should have been able to hold onto a 6 run lead, and Storen just had a bad night. The fact that it came in such an important game is a shame. If we want to look at a critical issue with the pitching staff on the night, it is probably this; the Nats pitchers put the Cards lead-off guy on in SIX of the nine innings, and that runner scored 5 of those times. They got the lead-off hitter on base every inning after the 3rd. That’s just a failure to execute by your pitching staff. Of course it’s also a testament to the hitting ability of this St. Louis team up and down the lineup.
There goes the season; I had tickets for Game 1 of the NLCS. I guess we have to wait til next year.