If you have read the game recap of last night's 5-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, you may have been frustrated to see that I excluded a full breakdown of last night's chaotic eighth inning. The half-inning was so out of control for the Nationals that I had to give it it's own post.
For those of you who missed it, here's a quick recap:
The Nationals entered the top of the 8th down 2-1, easily within striking distance of the Reds. Tyler Walker came into the game to relieve Atilano and proceeded to give up a no-out double to Orlando Cabrera and then a single to Brandon Phillips to score the runner. Now, down 3-1, Riggleman brought in Sean Burnett to face the lefty Joey Votto. Worried about the runner at first, Burnett worked from the stretch with a keen eye on Phillips, and not enough of one on the plate. As a result his first throw was a wild pitch.
Phillips who got a great break on the ball decided try for third, attempting to pick up two bases on the passed ball. While Nieves' throw from the backstop beat the runner to third, and Zimmerman applied the tag, Phillips was ruled safe as a result of runner interference on shortstop Ian Desmond. Outraged by the call, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman sprinted out to third base to protest, and was eventually ejected from the game.
Burnett walked the current batter Joey Votto, giving the Reds runners on first and third with no outs in a 3-1 ball game. Scott Rolen then hit a sharp ground ball to the second base side of Ian Desmond. Instead of attempting to turn two, Desmond fired the ball to the plate in a throw that beat Phillips by only two steps. Phillips proceeded to barrel over Nieves causing him to drop the ball, Phillips was safe at the plate. Upon his walk back to the dugout, the confident middle infielder pounded his chest and stomped on the plate as if to show up the Washington club.
After striking out Johnny Gomes, Burnett allowed a single to Jay Bruce which scored Joey Votto and pushed the Reds lead to 5-1.
Breaking it Down:
The decision to bring in Tyler Walker in a close game is one that some may question, however the bottom line is that if the Nationals do want to be competitive they will need to have more than three pitchers they can throw in close game situations. Riggleman tried to expand his effective bullpen last night, but perhaps was shown that there are just some people he can't rely on.
The wild pitch by Sean Burnett was just poor form, especially for a lefty that by now should be very accustomed to pitching with runners on base.
Immediately following the safe call at third on Brandon Phillips two-base attempt, many were outraged. However a review of the replay showed that despite Ian Desmond's attempt to get out of the way, all he really accomplished was getting in the way. The shortstop backpedaled to remove himself from the play and directly interfered with Phillips path towards third base. Had Ian been standing still or, "fielding his position," and Phillips had ran into him that it would not be interference, but the fact that Desmond actively moved into the runner, despite his best intentions, made it interference.
Jim Riggleman had to argue the call to make a point. The Nationals had been scorned by this umpire crew already this weekend and a good manager will protect his players, as Riggleman did. The call was legitimate, but one of Riggleman's best assets is that he shows his team that they are worth fighting (and getting ejected for). When you are in a close game and you make what clearly looks like an out and that gets taken away from you, it can cause seriously negative emotions both within the fans and within the players drive to win the game. The Nats needed a break, but it seemed as if the Reds were getting all of them.
Desmond's Throw Home and the Collision:
Down 3-1 Desmond fielded a hard hit ball from Scott Rolen to his glove side, within 10 feet of second base. Instead of turning the tailor-made double play, effectively killing any rally the Reds had at the sacrifice of one run, the rookie decided to fire the ball home in a very low percentage play. The ball reached Nieves on the wrong side of the plate with Phillips only two steps from home. While the tag was applied before Phillips touched the plate, the throw left Nieves out to dry, giving him a very, very, minimal chance of completing the play.
Phillips decision not to slide into home, as it was unblocked, surprised me. Had he done so he would have been safe by a large margin, instead however he elected to utterly destroy Will Nieves as if to make a point. To me it signified a borderline dirty play, he saw that the catcher was essentially in a position to be blindsided and he took him out. After he saw that Nieves had dropped the ball, he pounded his chest and emphatically stepped on home.
As a result of Desmond's ill-advised choice to throw home, the Nats now had two runners on with now outs, instead of no runners on with two outs. Even if the throw home resulted in an out at the plate, and saved a run, the Nats win probability would likely have been more positively effected if he had taken all the runners off the bases. The Nats were burned again by this decision as Jay Bruce's single resulted in a run.
In the top of the 9th Brandon Phillips returned to the plate again. As expected, Nationals pitcher Miguel Batista beaned him with the pitch as payback for his showboating and borderline dirty antics the previous inning. However, without any warning Batistia was ejected from the game for the pitch. Was this justified? I don't believe so. Throughout history baseball players have been given the right to get payback to a reasonable degree. A soft little plunk on the rear is not ejection worthy. Should both dugouts have received a warning following the pitch? Absolutely, but an ejection was uncalled for in my book.