Nats add sus­pense in ninth, still fall

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

st. louis — Be­fore the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Car­di­nals on Satur­day night, Adrian Sanchez, a Na­tion­als rookie with a pinch-run­ning ap­pear­ance and an in­ning at short­stop on his one-day big league ré­sumé, told catcher Jose Lo­ba­ton how ex­cited he was for his first at-bat. Lo­ba­ton told his fel­low Venezue­lan to re­lax. Play­ing time and op­por­tu­ni­ties would arise. Hours later, the two found them­selves in the mid­dle of a dra­matic ninth-in­ning rally at Busch Sta­dium, as­signed to avoid mak­ing the game’s fi­nal out.

Lo­ba­ton came up with run­ners on first and sec­ond, min­utes af­ter tak­ing a foul ball off his right fore­arm, a ric­o­chet that prompted a visit from the trainer and a brief de­lay. Fu­eled by adren­a­line, Lo­ba­ton worked an eight-pitch walk against Car­di­nals closer Trevor Rosen­thal to load the bases — and bring up Sanchez, the Na­tion­als’ last avail­able po­si­tion player, as a pinch hit­ter.

“I saw him af­ter me,” Lo­ba­ton said, “and I was like, ‘Oh, woah. What a sit­u­a­tion.’ ”

The Car­di­nals (39-41) re­placed Rosen­thal with Matt Bow­man, de­lay­ing the at-bat Sanchez was so anx­iously wait­ing for all day. When he did fi­nally step in, the Car­di­nals in­field was back, but Sanchez didn’t con­tem­plate bunting. In­stead, he took an ag­gres­sive ap­proach, swing­ing through the first pitch and foul­ing off the next two to fall to 0-2. Then he took three straight balls to run the count full be­fore foul­ing off two more fast­balls.

The sus­pense was build­ing — fans groan­ing and teammates clap­ping with each act of sur­vival. Bow­man, the 2009 All-Met Player of the Year from St. Al­bans, then fired the ninth pitch of the at-bat, an­other two-seam fast­ball that tailed away from Sanchez off the out­side cor­ner. Sanchez took the pitch, be­liev­ing it was a ball four. Home plate um­pire Manny

Gon­za­lez dis­agreed, to Sanchez’s dis­be­lief, to end the game.

“He wasn’t in­ti­mated. He was fight­ing off pitches,” Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker said. “You hate to have an at-bat like that, and then it’s set­tled on ap­par­ently a bad call. You know, the kid’s try­ing to make a liv­ing, too. He tries to make his mark in the big leagues. He was our last man, but we knew that he was go­ing to bat­tle in that at-bat. It just wasn’t fair to him.”

The Na­tion­als’ lineup, though still po­tent with four likely al­ls­tars, is not the same one that has led the ma­jors in runs scored since about the open­ing bell. Al­ready with­out Adam Ea­ton for the sea­son and Jayson Werth un­til af­ter the all-star break, the Na­tion­als (47-34) trav­eled to St. Louis for a week­end se­ries un­sure of the top of their or­der’s makeup af­ter los­ing Trea Turner to a frac­tured wrist Thurs­day.

The early re­turns are not en­cour­ag­ing. They have scored two runs in two games and squan­dered an­other im­pres­sive per­for­mance from Gio Gon­za­lez. Mak­ing his fi­nal case for a spot on the all-star team he has openly cov­eted, Gon­za­lez sur­ren­dered one run and two hits with a sea­son-high nine strike­outs over seven in­nings. The two hits he al­lowed were the only balls to travel out of the in­field.

He got some help from An­thony Ren­don at third base. A day be­fore all-star ros­ters are an­nounced, Ren­don dis­played his cre­den­tials for the ex­hi­bi­tion with a two-in­ning high­light reel. The demon­stra­tion be­gan in the first in­ning with Ren­don sprint­ing into foul ter­ri­tory in pur­suit of a popup off Tommy Pham’s bat, tum­bling into the stands to make the catch as short­stop Stephen Drew crashed on top of him. Ren­don, who had two of Wash­ing­ton’s six hits, added a div­ing stop to get an out at sec­ond base in the sec­ond in­ning.

“Oh man, that was out­stand­ing,” Baker said. “And he hurt some­thing in his leg on the tarp. And then Drew twisted his an­kle on the tarp. You could see how An­thony was limp­ing around af­ter that. I guess it sub­sided be­cause he was run­ning around bet­ter in the game.”

The only tur­moil Gon­za­lez ex­pe­ri­enced Satur­day was of his own do­ing. A pair of walks in the sec­ond in­ning led to Alex Me­jia smack­ing a two-out RBI sin­gle to cen­ter field for his first ma­jor league hit. It was the sec­ond hit Gon­za­lez has sur­ren­dered this sea­son with two outs and run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion in 37 at-bats.

He out­lasted Michael Wacha, but Wacha didn’t al­low a run be­fore he was pulled af­ter toss­ing 94 pitches in six in­nings on his 26th birth­day. The dif­fer­ence dou­bled in the eighth in­ning, when Sammy So­lis, ac­ti­vated from the dis­abled list ear­lier in the day, gave up a lead­off home run to Me­jia on his first pitch since April 18.

The Na­tion­als didn’t have a run­ner reach third base un­til the ninth in­ning, when Bryce Harper led off with a walk against Rosen­thal and even­tu­ally scored on Drew’s two-out sin­gle, which kept Wash­ing­ton from its first shutout of the sea­son. Lo­ba­ton, whose X-rays on the right fore­arm were neg­a­tive af­ter the game, fol­lowed with his walk to set the stage for Sanchez. The 26-year-old had been tak­ing swings since the sev­enth in­ning, ea­gerly wait­ing for his op­por­tu­nity. It came and he bat­tled, but the re­sult was un­kind.

“I saw it a lit­tle out­side,” Sanchez said of the at-bat’s de­ci­sive pitch. “I think it was a lit­tle out­side. He struck me out, and it was a de­ci­sion he made, and now I got to get ready for my next chance.”

JEFF CURRY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Na­tion­als’ Gio Gon­za­lez throws a pitch dur­ing the third in­ning. He held the Car­di­nals to one run in seven in­nings but took the loss.

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