July 8, 2015
I could tell as soon as I saw the Nationals lineup on the scoreboard yesterday evening that it might be a rough game. I joined my old friend Dave Givens, along with Jacqueline (a "part-time" baseball fan ), for what I had assumed would be a fairly easy game against the fourth-place Cincinnati Reds. After all, All-Star Max Scherzer was pitching! But not only was the Nats' lineup severely depleted due to more injuries (both Denard Span and Yunel Escobar were hurt), but the Reds' pitching ace Johnny Cueto was on the mound. I soon found out how good he really is.
I made a point to get to the ballpark early, taking photos during batting practice, but was still fumbling with food and beverages when the first players came to bat. By the time I sat down, the Reds were already ahead thanks to a single by Brandon Phillips and a double by Joey Votto. Two batters later, the Reds were ahead 2-0, after Jay Bruce hit a triple to right-center field. On the next play he was tagged out trying to score on a weak ground ball to first base, or else it might have been 3-0. Bad base-running.
In the bottom of the first, the Nats got two runners on base with one out, thanks to an error by Joey Votto and a bloop single to left field by Bryce Harper, but they failed to capitalize on the opportunity. For the next two and a half innings nobody from either team reached base, except for Joey Votto, who hit a home run into the right field bullpen in the third inning. In the bottom of the fourth, the first two Nats players reached base, on a walk to Bryce Harper and another Reds' error, but once again the Nationals failed to score.
The Nats' hopes for a comeback sank in the fifth inning, when the Reds scored two more runs on three hits, a sac fly, and a hit by pitch (unintentional*). Max Scherzer was obviously having problems with control, and was replaced. In the bottom of the fifth, Ian Desmond had a leadoff triple, but the next three batters struck out. For some #@&% reason, Matt Williams had the relief pitcher Taylor Jordan bat, rather than put in a pinch hitter to get Desmond across home plate. In fact, no Nationals players even reached base for the rest of that game.
Amazingly, the Nats' rookie relief pitcher Taylor Jordan did very well (on the mound at least), preventing the Reds from scoring for the next three innings. In the ninth, Sammy Solis took the mound, and likewise did well. But of course, none of that mattered. The Reds' Johnny Cueto gave up only two hits during the complete game shutout. If that's not a testament to his pitching ability, I don't know what is. He clearly deserves the final slot in the National League All-Star roster. Joey Votto ended up a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, perhaps hoping for a spot in the All-Star Game in front of his home-town fans.
Discouraged by what they saw, many fans left during the last couple innings. Paid attendance was 31,898, but I estimated that only about 28,000 fans were actually there. Final score: Reds 5, Nationals 0. As a result of the five runs he gave up, Max Scherzer's ERA rose from 1.82 to 2.12. [His win-loss record is 9-7.] For all the gory details, see MLB.com.
* I was wondering if Scherzer was going to get revenge on the Reds for having "plunked" so many Nats batters when they swept the series in Cincinnati at the end of May. No, he didn't. Ironically, the current issue of the Inside Pitch mini-magazine/program has Max Scherzer on the cover, with the title "Untouchable." Not quite. Nobody's perfect.
The above photo, and a few others, will soon be posted on the Nationals Park page. NOTE: I usually depart via the main gate on the north side, but I found a parking lot next to the Frederick Douglass bridge, only a block away. It was worth the $20 we paid.
So, my first game at Nationals Park this year was a bit of a letdown, but you can't win them all. With only three regular position players, plus Danny Espinosa, who has become a virtual regular, the game outcome was not unexpected. Hopefully it doesn't signify another downturn in this roller-coaster year. The last time I saw the Nats play the Reds was in Cincinnati last July, with the visitors winning 4-2 thanks in part to great pitching by Doug Fister.
The third and final game of the Reds-Nationals series tonight has been rained out, and will have to be played at some mutually-convenient future date. That's a relief for the banged-up Nationals. Those teams were not scheduled to play each other again this year.