Sean Doolittle was a perfect 21 for 21 converting save opportunities with the Nationals before he took the mound with a 4-2 lead in the ninth Thursday night in Washington, D.C.
Two pitches later, the 31-year-old closer was 21 for 22. Andrew McCutchen hit a first-pitch fastball to left for a single, and Josh Bell followed with a two-run shot to left on the first pitch he saw as the Pittsburgh Pirates tied things up at 4-4.
Washington went on to win in the bottom of the ninth, on a walk-off single by veteran bench bat Alejandro De Aza, after Doolittle recovered to retire three straight after the back-to-back hits.
Going in to the game on Thursday night, Doolittle had a 1.86 ERA with eight walks, 30 Ks, and a stingy .194/.248/.262 line against in 29 innings pitched since he was acquired by the Nationals in a pre-deadline deal with the Oakland A’s.
His ERA was up to 2.81 by the time he was done for the night.
“I think that’s his first blown save,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the win, “... but he had some pretty good hitters up there, it’s not like the eighth and ninth hitters beat him tonight, so that’s the mark of our team, it’s like, ‘Okay, we lost the lead, now we’ve got to come back and win the ballgame.’”
Asked if the fact that McCutchen and Bell both jumped on first-pitch fastballs from Doolittle, who has thrown 87.7% fastballs this season, was a sign they might have to mix things up a bit going forward, Baker said he didn’t think so.
“Not really,” he explained, “I mean, those balls were down, I don’t know where they were on the plate, but both those balls — like he lives on the top of the zone, and those balls were down, but they have reports too, they have scouts out there telling them what to look for and they jumped on him the first pitch, each guy.
“Cause people say, ‘Get deep in the count,’ and that sort of negates that.”
Doolittle vs Andrew McCutchen via Brooksbaseball.net:
Doolittle vs Josh Bell via Brooksbaseball.net:
Doolittle told reporters it wasn’t as much about location as it was conviction.
“I think it was kind of my fault,” Doolittle explained, “... like I didn’t define those pitches correctly, I was thinking about getting ahead of the batter, and I think they were okay pitches, they were located okay, but they didn’t have that killer instinct behind them.
“Sometimes when things are going good, and they’ve been going good for a little while, I don’t want to say you let your guard down, but you’re thinking about, ‘I’m going to throw strike one down and away, and then I’m going to move the ball around,’ whatever, and I think they were ready, and they had that killer instinct, they had that aggressive mentality.
“I don’t think I was aggressive enough coming in, I made the adjustment, but ... it was two pitches. I was really happy with how I threw the ball after that, but unfortunately by the time I made the adjustment it was too late.”
Baker said, in the end, it might be good to get the first blown save out of the way.
“Now you can start all over again,” he said. “Better now than later, and I think — I don’t know how many saves he had... 21? So, if he goes 21 more that means we’re the World Champions.”