If the Washington Nationals were looking to leave their fans with a positive impression over the upcoming four-day All-Star break, Sunday’s game was not what they were looking for.
In a rare ineffective performance, the Nationals bullpen surrendered a 3-1 lead over the last two innings, allowing the tying and winning runs on wild pitches in an eventual 4-3 win for the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park. The loss allowed the Rockies to win both the series and the season from the Nationals, who saw their lead atop the National League East cut to four games over the Atlanta Braves.
It seemed like a standard-issue affair through seven innings for Washington, which had a 3-1 lead fueled largely by starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who threw seven innings of three-hit ball in the 101-degree heat and turned the game over to the pen in search of his third straight win. But the Rockies rallied immediately against Sean Burnett.
Eric Young, coming off the bench in the pitcher’s spot, greeted Burnett with a line-drive homer to left to cut the Washington lead to 3-2. A pair of subsequent singles by Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro drove Burnett from the contest without recording an out. Mike Gonzalez came in to face Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez with runners on the corners, but promptly threw a slider in the dirt that skipped off the chest of catcher Jhonatan Solano, scoring Fowler with the tying run.
With the game tied, closer Tyler Clippard came on in the ninth inning and suffered a similar fate. Jordan Pacheco led off with a double and moved to third on a bunt. With Jason Giambi at the plate, Clippard (2-3) bounced one that Solano tried to backhand to no avail, allowing Pacheco to slide home with the go-ahead run.
Washington rallied in the ninth against Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt, getting runners to second and third with two outs, but Betancourt pumped a fastball past pinch-hitter Jesus Flores to end the game and nail down his 15th save. Rex Brothers (4-2) pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Colorado to earn the win.
Up until the eighth inning, things were going swimmingly for the Nationals despite falling behind in the second on a sacrifice fly by former Washington catcher Wil Nieves. Ian Desmond continued his breakout season and torrid hot stretch by blasting a two-run home run in the fourth inning off Colorado starter Jeremy Guthrie to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Desmond’s decision to skip the All-Star Game to rest a strained oblique looks more and more interesting, in light of his recent success. In his last 13 games, Desmond has 14 extra-base hits, six home runs and 15 RBIs.
The Nationals extended their lead in the seventh thanks to a single by Steve Lombardozzi that scored Roger Bernadina. At that point, Zimmermann, who had been cruising all day, had thrown 95 pitches and given the steamy conditions, was given the rest of the day off, an easy decision given the quality of the Nationals bullpen this season. For the first time in a while, though, that decision didn’t pan out.
Champ of the Game: Ian Desmond. Like a broken record, Desmond continues to string together strong games. His homer today tied Orlando Cabrera for the franchise single-season record for home runs by a shortstop with 17. He is also one of just two shortstops in baseball to lead his team in home runs (Houston’s Jed Lowrie is the other). For Colorado, Eric Young gets the nod, jump-starting the Rockies comeback with his pinch-hit home run off Burnett.
Chump of the Game: Jhonatan Solano. I know we all love “The Onion,” but Sunday was not his strongest performance. A pair of strikeouts in an 0-for-3 day at the plate wasn’t even as bad as his failure to block the wild pitch by Clippard in the ninth inning. Yes, it was in the dirt, but Solano didn’t move his body at all to try and get in front of it. In that situation, it was a killer. For the Rockies, Carlos Gonzalez contributed nothing, striking out twice and going 0-for-4. Over the last two games, CarGo fanned five times and went 0-for-8.
Next Game: For Washington’s three remaining All-Star representatives — Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper — it will be the All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday night. For the full squad, it will come Friday at 7:10 ET at Marlins Park. Nothing is set in stone as far as pitching match-ups are concerned, but a tentative pairing will pit the Nationals Jordan Zimmermann (5-6, 2.61 ERA) against Miami’s Josh Johnson (5-5, 4.06).