The Washington Nationals fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the bottom of the ninth last night on a Rod Barajas walk-off home run. With the loss they are now 18-11 on the season, and are in a virtual tie with the Atlanta Braves for first place in the National League East.
The last half hour of last night's contest was a roller coaster ride, ending in a violent, tragic crash. The Nationals gave the Pirates the lead in the bottom of the eighth after an error by Ian Desmond extended the inning and put Nate McClouth in scoring position. Washington then came roaring back in the top of the ninth with a clutch two run home run by Adam LaRoche to give the Nats the 4-3 lead. Then with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, closer Henry Rodriguez gave up a two-run walk off home run to the Pirates' No. 8 hitter.
What a night. What a way to lose.
The loss left fans on Twitter clamoring for the return of closer Drew Storen, who has yet to make an appearance this season due to elbow surgery this Spring. Despite a strong start of the season, the blown save was Rodriguez's second of the year, and also his second in his last three attempts. In his 14 appearances, he has allowed one hit or more just four times. He has losses in three of those four instances.
- Henry Rodriguez could not locate his pitches at an MLB level again last night. This has always been the book on the 25-year-old, but Washington had hoped that they could harness his control problems to leverage his unbelievable stuff. The problem is that when he's put in high leverage situations, his flaws bubble to the surface. Prior to the home run he allowed to Barajas, Rodriguez had thrown two wild pitches, which allowed Alex Presley (who Rodriguez walked) to advance from first to third. I have no doubt that the fear of throwing yet another wild pitch played a factor in the Nats closer grooving a fastball down mainstreet to Barajas. So while his wild pitches technically had no outcome on the game, no runs scored directly from them, it had to be on his mind when he hung that fastball on the last pitch of the night.
- Edwin Jackson was two bad pitches away from an outstanding outing, and likely his second win of the season. He allowed only three hits in seven innings of work, while striking out five batters and walking just one. The only problem was that the two hits he gave up were both solo home runs. A big problem for the 29-year-old throughout his career has been inconsistency in his fastball. When it is on, like it was against the Astros when he pitched a nine-inning two hitter, it has good sink and induces ground balls. When its off, like it has been his last two starts, it is flat as a board.
- The Nationals struck out 10 times against A.J. Burnett, the very same pitcher that allowed 12 runs in 2.2 innings pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start.
- Washington was able to come back in the top of the ninth against their own former closer, Joel Hanrahan. In 2009 Hanrahan had five blown saves in 10 attempts while posting a 7.71 ERA. Last year for Pittsburgh, however, he posted 40 saves with a 1.83 ERA.