Stroke of Fortune
Sometimes, just when it looks like everything is breaking against you, something that appears to be bad luck instead returns good fortune. In a game that appeared headed the direction that too many have already gone this season, where a couple bits of bad luck tilted a close game against them, the Nationals got just such a break Friday night.
Washington had precious few opportunities against Colorado starter Tyler Chatwood, who looked every part like the pitcher with a 2.33 ERA heading into his start, a number all the more impressive given half of his outings take place at Coors Field. The first of these chances followed a two-out Steve Lombardozzi walk in the second inning. Lombardozzi got a decent jump on Chatwood and appeared to have second base stolen with Kurt Suzuki at the plate, but was called out by second base umpire Rob Drake. Both Lombardozzi and Davey Johnson argued the play to no avail.
In the top of the fifth, Josh Rutledge hit the ball deep in the hole at shortstop, where Ian Desmond made a tremendous effort just to get to the ball, then had to throw across his body back towards first, his momentum carrying him towards the left field line. His throw arrived just as Rutledge was reaching first, but the runner was called safe. Thankfully, the Nationals would escape the inning with no damage.
In the sixth, following a leadoff single, D.J. LeMahieu took off for second, and it appeared that Kurt Suzuki’s throw might have him nabbed. But again, Drake signaled safe, another bang-bang play against the Nationals. Stephen Strasburg bore down to strike out Carlos Gonzalez and Wilin Rosario to once again avoid trouble, though.
One inning later, another seemingly unfortunate play actually helped set in motion the events that led to Washington’s eventual victory. With two outs in the top of the seventh, in a 1-1 tie, Rutledge – Strasburg’s personal tormenter for the evening – floated a double down the left field line into the corner, becoming the fifth runner in scoring position against the Nationals righty. The hit brought Chatwood’s spot to the plate, and in turn, forced Rockies manager Walt Weiss to pinch-hit for his starter in an attempt to take the lead. That ploy didn’t work, as Ryan Zimmerman chased down a Tyler Colvin pop-up to end the frame.
Furthermore, it resulted in Manuel Corpas enteringfrom the Colorado bullpen for the bottom of the seventh. He drew Desmond as his first assignment, and after missing with a pair of sliders, left a sinker up and out over the plate that Desmond crushed for his third home run in as many nights. The run provided the difference in the 2-1 victory, and marked the ninth of Desmond’s 12 homers that have given the Nationals the lead when they were hit.
That was just enough for Strasburg, who allowed only a single earned run for the sixth consecutive start, but had collected just two wins in the previous five. Instead, this was a win that harkened back to the early parts of last season, when Johnson’s mantra of great pitching, great defense and just enough timely hitting seemed to be enough to win most nights. Even when everything seemed to be breaking bad.