Nats’ Chico Has Wild Night in Miami
Marlins 9, Nationals 3
MIAMI, April 21 — Get used to it, because Matt Chico said it has happened before, and it’s likely to happen again.
“ I’ve never seen it,” center fielder Ryan Church said.
Get the gruesome details of the Washington Nationals’ 9- 3 loss to the Florida Marlins on Saturday night out of the way, and there are plenty. Chico, a rookie left- hander, walked seven men — tying the most by a major league pitcher this season — including the opposing pitcher. Twice. On a total of nine pitches. He threw 59 strikes and 53 balls.
“ It was just one of those days where I was just having trouble finding the zone,” Chico said, “ and I started to press a little bit more trying to throw strikes.”
Those numbers had everything to do with why the Marlins ended their six- game losing streak, and why the Nationals must wait until Sunday to try to clinch their first series win of the season. But next month, next week, even by Sun-
day, this game will be long forgotten — except for one pitch. Flip on “ SportsCenter,” because it just might be playing right now.
It came in the bottom of the first. Chico’s control problems already were established, because he walked the first two men he faced. With one out and the count 1- 0 on cleanup hitter Josh Willingham, catcher Brian Schneider called for a change- up. Chico gripped the ball with his left hand, and prepared to throw. But as his arm whipped through, the ball was no longer there.
“ It’s just one of those things,” Schneider said.
Instantly, Chico transformed himself into Nuke LaLoosh, the gas- throwing, who- knows- whereit’s- going minor league pitcher played by Tim Robbins in “ Bull Durham.” His arm followed through, but the ball shot off to the side.
“ It just missed,” Church deadpanned. “ Schneider was set up outside.”
The ball carried over the Marlins dugout. It reached the stands. The second row of the stands.
“ It usually happens to me about three or four times a year,” Chico said.
“ He’s done it in the bullpen before,” Manager Manny Acta said. “ It’s not any physical [ or] mental thing.”
It was, however, a bizarre thing, the wildest of wild pitches. Most in the announced crowd of 24,107 rose to their feet, several waving towels, doing their best to mock the 23- year- old, who might as well have stood naked on the grass behind the mound.
“ It just slipped right out,” Chico said. “ Kind of one of those where I went back and didn’t have a tight enough grip and it came right out of my hand.”
He took another ball, inhaled deeply, walked up to the rubber — and fired a strike to Willingham. Two pitches later, Schneider put his hand down to call another pitch for Willingham. Change- up.
“ I didn’t want him to think, ‘ Oh, [ shoot], I can’t throw a change- up’ ,” Schneider said.
Willingham swung through it, and Chico struck him out.
Had Chico collected himself from there, “ the pitch” might have been a funny footnote to a start that turned around. But the reality was that Chico took the Nationals out of this game. He didn’t allow the Marlins to hit a ball in fair territory until he had walked the bases full in the first, and that hit — on his 30th pitch — was a two- run single by Cody Ross.
His most significant sins, however, came in ensuing innings. With one out in the second, he walked Anibal Sanchez, the opposing pitcher, on four pitches. The result was predictable: Hanley Ramirez jumped on a fat fast- ball and drilled it into the seats in left field, a two- run homer that made it 4- 1.
In the fifth, after Chico had somewhat bounced back to retire eight of nine hitters and the Nationals had pulled within 4- 3, he did it again — only worse. Acta badly needed Chico to survive the fifth, because his bullpen is under extreme duress as it is, and Chico’s spot was due up second the following inning. Chico couldn’t do it, walking eighth- place hitter Jason Wood to load the bases and, again, get to Sanchez.
The task should be among the simplest in baseball: retire the pitcher.
“ That’s got to be an out,” Chico said. “ No matter what.”
It wasn’t. Worse, Chico bounced a breaking pitch in the dirt, a wild pitch that scored one run. He then walked Sanchez on a 3- 1 pitch. It was his last of the night.
“ The damage could have been worse,” Acta said. “ That wasn’t what we were looking for.”
Chico has had starts like this in the minors. He has thrown pitches like that before. This is, however, the first time he has done so in the majors. “ It was a blooper,” Schneider said.
One that could appear over and over. He said it doesn’t matter. He’s not much for highlights — or lowlights — anyway.
“ I try not to watch them,” he said. “ I’m definitely not going to watch that one.”
Matt Chico issued seven walks, two to Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez, and threw two wild pitches, including one in the first that slipped from his hand and landed in the stands.
A ball hit for a double by Florida’s Dan Uggla eludes the grasp of Ryan Church as Chris Snelling plays backup.