The playoffs will have to wait at least one more day.
Needing a doubleheader sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday to clinch a post-season berth for the first time since leaving Montréal, the Washington Nationals couldn’t quite get the job done, mounting a splendid eighth-inning comeback to overturn a six-run deficit before finally falling 7-6.
The doubleheader split meant things got tighter on all playoff fronts. The Braves defeated Florida to move to within five games of the Nats in the National League East, while the Reds beat the Cubs and now trail Washington by only 1/2 game in the race for the NL’s best record.
The Nationals were dominated for seven innings by Josh Beckett, which combined with a poor start from John Lannan, had the Nationals in a 6-0 hole after four innings and prompted Davey Johnson to pull some regulars to give them a rest after a long day of baseball. But Washington wouldn’t go quietly, and a blatantly missed call by home plate umpire Alan Porter, which seemed innocuous at the time given the score of the game, turned out to be the deciding factor. It was a familiar feeling for Nationals fans, who saw a badly blown call come back to haunt the Nationals on Saturday in Atlanta as well.
The play in question was the capper to the Dodgers six-run early game outburst. Lannan, who had pitched brilliantly in all three of his major league starts this season, surrendered three runs in the third after a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases for Hanley Ramirez. The shortstop, who so often hurt the Nationals when he played for the Marlins, did it again, driving in a pair with a single before Andre Ethier did the same, scoring the third run.
It didn’t get much better for Lannan in the fourth. Three more singles and a hit batter led to another run and signaled the end of the line for Lannan, to be replaced by Chien-Ming Wang. It was Wang’s first appearance in a major league game since June 30, and his rust showed immediately as his first pitch bounced past Jesus Flores for a run-scoring wild pitch.
Ramirez, that man again, hit a bouncer to third that took a funky hop and almost decapitated Ryan Zimmerman. The Gold-Glove third baseman somehow knocked the ball down and made a bare-handed tag of a leaping Adrian Gonzalez on his way to third for the third out of the inning. The fact that the bases were not loaded meant that the question was now, did Matt Kemp score before the out was recorded?
Clearly, he did not. Yet Porter, the home plate umpire whose call it was to make, somehow determined after a conference with the crew that Kemp’s run should count and the Dodgers were handed a 6-0 lead.
At the time, it may have looked like window dressing. Beckett was dealing, having faced only one batter over the minimum through seven sterling innings. On the other side, Wang and Zach Duke combined to keep the Dodgers off the board as well. Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche were taken out of the game as Davey Johnson appeared to be waving the white flag.
But then, the uprising started. Morse, who started both games of the doubleheader after recovering from his wrist issues, broke up the shutout with an opposite-field homer. After an Ian Desmond single, Steve Lombardozzi hit a homer of his own, and now the lead was cut in half.
An error and a single put runners on the corners for Bryce Harper, who beat out a dribbler to third to drive in the Nationals fourth run and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa singled, and after a Tyler Moore strikeout, Morse came up big again, singling to score two runs and
give the Nationals a 6-5 lead tie the game.
Unfortunately for Washington, momentum remained her normal fickle self. Facing Tyler Clippard leading off the top of the ninth, Kemp swung the pendulum back in favor of the Dodgers by blasting an 0-2 pitch out of the ballpark to center. At that point, all of the air went out of the Nationals balloon, and they went meekly against Brandon League in the bottom of the ninth.
Champ of the Game: Michael Morse. His two hits in the eighth inning drove in three runs, a perfect way to come back from almost a week on the shelf. For the Dodgers, Kemp gets the nod for his second game-winning home run against the Nationals this season.
Chump of the Game: John Lannan. Lannan couldn’t continue the form he’d carried through his big league starts this season, getting tagged early and often and getting the hook in the fourth inning. For Los Angeles, Randy Choate faced two batters in the eighth inning and gave up hits to both, paving the way for the Nationals to eventually tie the game.
Next Game: The series concludes Thursday night at Nationals Park at 7:05 ET. It’s a battle of left-handers, with the Dodgers sending Chris Capuano (11-10, 3.60 ERA) to the hill against Washington’s Ross Detwiler (9-6, 3.16). Capuano stymied the Nationals in his only start against them in early May, while Detwiler can be the one to bring post-season baseball back to Washington if he can win his 10th game of the season on Thursday.