Most baseball teams live to bat with the bases loaded. Not the Washington Nationals.
That propensity for coming up empty with the bases full came back to bite them hard in Monday’s 8-7, 10-inning loss the Miami Marlins.
A potential go-ahead opportunity for one of the game’s hottest hitters suddenly morphed into one of the Nats’ worst nightmares, revisited. And a chance for a big tenth inning — and the ballgame — bounced away with a ball that caromed off Josh Bell’s back.
The Nationals were once again penalized for another team’s poor throw from the plate to first base, with a runner being called out after clearly beating a relay throw to the bag.
“That play for me — it’s a cluster,” fumed manager Davey Martinez, struggling to keep his composure in his postgame Zoom call with reporters.
Batting with the bases loaded provides the greatest opportunity for a team to push at least one run across the plate, but for whatever reason, the Nats are a major-league worst .189, with 27 hits, seven doubles, and three home runs in 143 at-bats prior to Monday.
That means the Nationals had taken 133 fruitless at-bats with the bases loaded this season before the tenth inning Monday, but their 134th was by far the most frustrating.
The Nationals’ best chance to score in the tenth actually came before they loaded the bases, thanks to the free runner at second base to start the inning. Having made the final out of the ninth, Luis García was on second to start the tenth.
Lane Thomas drove a 2-0 slider from Miami’s Dylan Floro to the gap in left, but García retreated from his secondary lead to tag second before realizing the ball was down for extra bases. García made it to third, but not nearly in time for a chance to score while Thomas pulled up at second on what could have been a triple.
“It’s deep enough where he probably could have gone halfway a little more,” manager Davey Martinez said after the game. “If the ball hits the wall, he’s got a good chance to score.
“He was going back to tag up, and it’s a really tough call as a runner, but I think you have time, you still have time if you went halfway, if he caught it, go back, and try to tag.”
Alcides Escobar worked a full count before grounding out to short for the first out, and the Marlins then intentionally issued Juan Soto his third walk of the game and major-league-leading 126th.
That loaded the bases for Bell, who was 1-for-3 with his 22nd double of the season and was on a .276/.373/.542 tear since the All-Star break going into the game.
But when Bell grounded a 3-2 slider from Florio to Lewin Díaz, playing in at first, not only did the the nightmare 3-2-3, inning-ending double-play scenario play out, but it pulled in another bad experience from the 2019 World Series.
Bell hustled up the line at first to beat the throw, running on the infield grass before veering off to tag the first base bag as the relay throw from Marlins catcher Sandy León hit him in the back, after flicking off Diaz’s glove.
“They say it’s a judgement,” Martinez said afterward. “He ran inside, when he touched the base, the ball hit him in the back, he was already on the base. It’s a judgement at that point. I get it.
“If the ball hits him inside the line, and he’s still running, yeah, great, but come on guys, use your freaking common sense, one time.
“It’s a brutal, brutal freaking play, it really is. It’s horrible.”
Bell acknowledged running inside the baseline.
“Yeah, for sure, I feel like a lot of players do,” he said. “I was kind of almost fishing out there, just trying to make contact, so yeah, my momentum had me in the throwing lane.
“I don’t know how long that rule is going to last, but it was tough feeling first, and then having a split second, and then feeling the ball hit me and me still getting called out.”
Martinez said the umpires rushed to judgement.
“Let the play finish! It’s a judgement, right?” he argued. “Don’t start calling him and the guy hasn’t even thrown the ball. He’s running, and the guy’s got the ball in his hand, and when he touches the base, he gets hit in the back, and they call him out?”
Martinez was tossed from the game after arguing the call and seeking a replay review to no avail.
“We were trying to get them to do a review, and Doug Eddings said they’re going to review the play at home. They thought I wanted to review the play at first, he says, ‘There’s no review.’ We wanted to review the play at home, we thought the catcher didn’t step on the base when he caught the ball.”
It called to mind a play where Trea Turner was called out at first in Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. Turner hit a dribbler to Houston pitcher Brad Peacock, whose throw to first was way off line, and the ball got away from Yuli Gurriel.
The out call on Turner and Martinez’s ensuing argument and ejection comprise an iconic moment in Nats’ history, and Martinez seemed even more irate when Bell was called out in the same situation.
“If the ball hits him before he gets on the base, and he’s out of the baseline, of course, he’s out, but c’mon,” Martinez said. “The second part of that ruling is a judgement. Judge. Right? One umpire has got to say, ‘You know what, yeah, I’m not going to reward a catcher for making a bad throw.”
It was almost a foregone conclusion that after the Nats came up empty in yet another bases-loaded situation, the Marlins would score the winning run quickly, and without even putting a ball in play.
Jazz Chisholm, Jr. started the inning at second as the free runner, and after Sam Clay walked Jesus Sanchez, Chisholm stole third, and then came home on a wild pitch to Lewis Brinson.
The Nats wanted a review to determine whether the pitch hit Brinson, but crew chief Bill Miller ruled that the request came too late.