The Washington Nationals had a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning Friday night. Edwin Jackson, who'd thrown eight strong innings allowing six hits and one run on a Jonathan Lucroy HR, was hit for in the home half of the eighth and Nats' closer Tyler Clippard took the mound in the top of the ninth looking for save no.33 of 2012. Drew Storen was called upon in the ninth inning of Thursday night's game with LA because Clippard was unavailable, having pitched in both ends of the Nats and Dodgers' doubleheader on Wednesday. Storen, the 2011 closer whose 2012 campaign started late after surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, threw a dominant ninth, a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 inning to earn his third save of the season, but he'd then pitched in back-to-back games, so it was Clippard the Nats' manager turned to Friday night.
Davey Johnson hit for E-Jax after Jackson had thrown 101 pitches through eight, hoping to get an insurance run or two before he turned to Clippard in the ninth. Asked if he'd considered leaving Jackson in, the Nats' skipper said, "I might have, but I felt like here we have a chance to add on, I might add on." Plus, Johnson added, "[Clippard] has been awfully good. I don't know how many out of 32... but he's been awfully good." On the year, the 27-year-old closer has been good, with the 32 saves, a 3.22 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 27 walks (3.63 BB/9) and 79 Ks (10.61 K/9) in 67.0 IP. In 9.1 IP in September before Friday night, however, Clippard had struggled, allowing 11 hits, 6 R, 6 ER and 2 HRs in 7.2 IP over which he had a 7.04 ERA and a 4.54 FIP...
• 9th: Brewers' outfielder Norichika Aoki bunted his way on to start the frame and put the tying run on. A passed ball moved Aoki to second and fly to center by Rickie Weeks put the tying run on third so that Ryan Braun's line drive single to left tied it at 2-2. Braun stole second on Clippard and Jesus Flores then scored on an Aramis Ramirez double to give Milwaukee the lead, 3-2, in what ended up a 4-2 game when Aramis Ramirez scored too. Just how unlikely was the comeback?
• Via The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt on Twitter (@Haudricourt):
To put #Brewers victory tonight into proper perspective, consider this statistic: They had been 1-55 when trailing after 8 innings in 2012.— Tom (@Haudricourt) September 22, 2012
Davey Johnson, who'd told reporters before Friday night's game that he would mix and match closers with Clippard and Storen depending on the situation when they had a late lead, was not ready to give up on Clippard even after the right-hander's fifth BS of the season. "That one hurt," the Nats' skipper said when he spoke to the press after the loss. "[Edwin] Jackson pitched a great ball game. I was tempted to let him go out in the ninth, but I said, 'Pitched a great ballgame. Clippard's fresh. Let's go there." Johnson said the biggest play of the ninth was the bunt that got the leadoff runner on.
"The play of the ninth inning was Aoki's bunt," Johnson explained, "We were playing in. He made a perfect bunt and then a couple passed balls didn't help, but the bunt was the key because the guy can run. He's going to be on second base. That was the whole inning, really. And that changes... Clippard's rushing to keep [Aoki] from stealing another bag and didn't make good pitches."
Johnson wasn't worried about his closer, however. "He'll be fine," the 69-year-old bench manager said, "That one just got away. One battle. He's been awfully good."
"He was throwing hard. He was throwing 94 [mph]," Johnson said, "Again, when you're worried about [the runner] stealing a bag, a lot of times you don't locate the ball as well. And you're rushing and leave the ball down the middle."
The manager of the NL East's first place team wasn't considering changing his plans as he explained them before Friday's game. He did say that it would probably be Storen in the ninth on Saturday if the team needed a closer. "With the number of pitches [Clippard] threw tonight and I didn't want to come back with Storen three days in a row [on Friday], especially with Gio [Gonzalez] going tomorrow. Storen will be the guy tomorrow."
After that? Johnson's sticking to his previous statements about mixing and matching depending on the situation.
"One time out, that was a tough club in a one-run ballgame, with all that speed..."