Dan Haren gave up three hits and just one earned run on a sixth inning opposite field home run by Brandon Belt this afternoon in Nationals Park, and the Washington Nationals right-hander handed a 3-1 lead to the Nats' bullpen in the series finale with the San Francisco Giants. Fernando Abad threw a scoreless seventh. Tyler Clippard threw a scoreless eighth. Rafael Soriano... blew the save. The Nationals were one out and one strike away from a series sweep and six straight wins when their 33-year-old closer entered the game.
Soriano gave up a leadoff single by Buster Posey on a 1-2 slider up in the zone, then two outs later walked light-hitting Giants' outfielder Roger Kieschnick before giving up a three-run home run by pinch hitter Hector Sanchez after missing with a high 2-2 fastball the Nats' closer thought was a strike. Apparently, the call by home plate umpire Jim Joyce threw the pitcher off. At least that's what he told reporters:
Soriano: 'I think the game [should have been] over. That pitch, to me, I think it [was] a strike. I think that was when the game changed.'— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) August 16, 2013
And apparently, Hector Sanchez agreed:
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said after the disappointing 4-3 loss that home plate ump Jim Joyce simply wasn't giving pitchers high strikes. "He basically called the low strike all day, didn't call the high strike,'' Johnson told reporters, "I mean, he was consistent with that. He gave a lot of borderline pitches low, but it wasn't that pitch we missed. Walking the left fielder [Kieschnick] that was the... and having [Buster] Posey two strikes and [Soriano] threw a hanger. But, walking the left fielder, that was the..."
Johnson trailed off. But he wasn't done talking about the two-out at bat against the Giants' left fielder.
Soriano challenged Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, and got the first two outs after Posey's single. "And then the guy you've got to get out," Johnson said. ".250 hitter, you've got to get out. You can't come close. You've got to make him put it in play. That's what hurt." Soriano gave up two hits, the walk Kieschnick and three runs on the home run a night after he gave up a run on three hits on the way to earning his 31st save of 2013.
"He's my closer," Johnson said when he was asked if he'd considered other options since Soriano had pitched two nights in a row. "Three days in a row is nothing for a closer. I mean, shoot. He had a long layoff before that. But, no, that's his spot and Haren pitched a heck of a ballgame. I was going to take him out, but he helped me. He said, 'I've had it,' after six. He pitched a heck of a ballgame though. Again." Haren now has a 2.30 ERA over his last seven starts and 43 IP. He got three runs of support but it wasn't enough, and the loss was a tough one.
Johnson wasn't entertaining any talk about moving away from Soriano in the ninth, however.
"He's been very consistent," the manager explained, "He'll give up some hits, but makes pitches when he has to. But maybe that's his third blown save? Fifth? But he's a command pitcher and for whatever reason, I don't know, he was being too fine on [Kieschnick]. He threw two right by him. And then, he wasn't even close. And then, I don't know, just tried to nibble.
"If he locates, that's his strength. He locates the fastball. But certain guys, you just, 'Here, hit it.' You don't need to cut it in on them or nothing."
• AUDIO: Nats Nightly - With FBB's Doghouse Tonight:
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