The Washington Nationals entered play today with a streak of five straight wins, matching a season high, but they'd never won that elusive sixth straight. The defending NL East Champs put together three five-game winning streaks, from May 4th to 10th; August 9th to 14th and August 20th to 24th, but never got six in-a-row. They'd also gone nearly a year without sweeping a series on the road, with the last a three-game road sweep coming against the New York Mets in Citi Field back on September 10-12, 2012.
The Nationals were on a bit of a roll before lately, however, having won 11 of their last 15 overall to get back over .500 for the first time since July 14th when they beat the Miami Marlins in the last game before the All-Star Break to leave them 48-47. Last night's win left the Nationals 65-64 after 129 games. On the mound today in Kansas City, in the series finale with the Royals, was Dan Haren, who entered this afternoon's outing undefeated in six career starts in Kauffman Stadium in which he was (4-0) with a 1.99 ERA.
Haren, who struggled through the first half, took the mound today with a four-game winning streak of his own on the line. He was (4-0) in his last five starts while posting a 1.32 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .167/.206/.258 line over that stretch. The 32-year-old, 11-year veteran had a rough start to the game today, as the Royals scored four runs early on a home run by Alex Gordon, an RBI single by Eric Hosmer and a two-run blast by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez.
The Nationals got back in the game, however, with three home runs tying things up at 4-4 in the seventh. Ian Desmond hit a 431 foot home run out to left in the fourth to get the Nats on the board, then Denard Span hit another solo blast in the seventh to make it 4-2. Bryce Harper stepped in with one on and two out in the top of the seventh inning and tied it up with one swing, sending a first-pitch fastball out to left-center for a two-run opposite field home run that evened things up after seven in Kansas City.
The Nationals fell apart in the eighth though, allowing the Royals to rally with two down. Craig Stammen walked Eric Hosmer with two down, but got a grounder to first out of Billy Butler that should have ended the inning. Nats' first baseman Adam LaRoche bobbled it though and when he recovered and turned to throw to the covering pitcher, Stammen was nowhere to be found, having stood on the mound as it played out before sprinting too late to get to the base. A second walk, to Mike Moustakas, loaded the bases, then another mental error cost the Nats.
Salvador Perez spun one out to short that Ian Desmond failed to backhand, but he picked it up and turned to third only to find Ryan Zimmerman unprepared. Zimmerman raced Butler to the bag, but the tag was too late and the go-ahead run scored to make it 5-4 Royals. David Lough drove in another run with a single to left, but the damage was done and the Royals' closer Greg Holand locked up the win.
"We battled so hard in that ballgame," Davey Johnson lamented after the loss dropped the Nats back to .500. "Came back against a tough pitcher and then just gave it away in the eighth. Butler hits the ball to first, [LaRoche] bobbles it, we've still got time to get it, pick it up and go to first. Walk to first. That was tough. Stammen pitched him tough and it should have been an easy out and then the ball to [Desmond], I think he could have gone to second, I don't know, but he kind of caught [Zimmerman] by surprise and [Zimmerman] wasn't in position. So, tough way to lose a ballgame after we battled back."
"It's a tough play for [Zimmerman]," the Nats' skipper explained, "cause you usually think you're going to go second base on that ball, but Stammen, I guess he assumed that it was hit right at [LaRoche] and [LaRoche] was just going to walk to the bag, and you can't ever take anything for granted in this game, and that's a mistake. And it cost us. So, we battled back. I like the way we played. It's just tough to lose a game like that."
Especially after Haren kept the Nationals in the game in spite of his rough start. "Haren made a couple of mistakes early," Johnson said, "and then pitched brilliantly for six solid innings, gave us a chance to win and we were in a good spot there, get them out in the eighth, their closer is gone and we can get to the rest of their bullpen which we've been doing good." The defensive miscues cost the Nationals though and kept them from completing a sweep of the Royals.
"Any loss hurts," Johnson told reporters. "I thought the way we battled back against their best pitcher, really, and tied the game, Harper got a big hit and it felt like after nine innings we were into their bullpen which we've handled pretty good and it just didn't happen."
More from Federal Baseball:
- Game 130 WPA: Time for remedial IF. Nats 4, KC 6
- Nationals Can't Sweep: Royals 6-4 Over Nats In Series Finale In Kauffman Stadium
- Nationals Send Dan Haren To Hill In Finale With Royals + Nats' Lineup
- Nationals 7-2 Over Royals: Davey Johnson On Jordan Zimmermann And Tyler Moore
- Game 129 WPA: Big 15. Nats 7, KC 2