Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis didn't respond well to adversity in the fourth inning today.
The insinuation from Riggleman, who was ejected in the fourth inning for arguing balls and strikes, was that umpires should give the same calls to teams coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons as they give to teams coming off back-to-back National League pennants.
"I just felt like I needed to make a statement that we've got to get a little respect, too," Riggleman said of his arguing a close 1-2 pitch from Jason Marquis to Ryan Howard. "That's the Phillies over there, who have earned a great amount of respect. But we've got to get some respect, too, so I felt like I had to say something."
He's right. The Phillies and Nationals should be treated the exact same way, regardless of record. But you know the best way to ensure that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore? Win.
Win games in blowout fashion. Win games in close fashion. Win games that require you to come from behind. And win games that you seize control of early, not letting them slip through your hands.
Today's loss was a perfect example of that last category. The Nats jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning. They had Cole Hamels on the ropes. Jimmy Rollins was in the trainer's room, nursing a calf strain that occurred moments before first pitch and could turn into something serious for the Phillies leadoff man. The crowd of 44,791 that turned out on Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park was restless and booing its hometown heroes.
"We definitely had them on the ropes," first baseman Adam Dunn said. "But when you've got a chance to put a team away like that and you don't do it, it gives them a second wind."
Sure enough, the Nats gave the game back to the Phillies. The meltdown began in the bottom of the fourth, when an automatic ball was called on Marquis for licking his fingers while standing on the mound and then not wiping his hand on his pants before throwing a 2-1 pitch to Chase Utley.
Marquis insisted he did nothing wrong.
"He just said I didn't wipe to my leg, which I know I did," the right-hander said. "It's a he-said/she-said type of thing. I know I wiped. He said I didn't. Obviously the umpire has the ultimate say."
It wouldn't have been that big a deal, except that for whatever reason, Marquis crumbled after that incident. After retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced, he proceeded to retire only three of the next 11.
It didn't help matters that during the next at-bat following the automatic ball, plate umpire Paul Schrieber squeezed Marquis on a 1-2 slider to Ryan Howard. The Nats thought it should have been strike three. Schrieber said it was ball two. Moments later, Howard sent an RBI single to left field to ignite the Phillies' rally.
And moments after that, Riggleman went to the mound, not to confer with his pitcher but to complain about Schrieber's strike zone. As soon as the umpire arrived there to break up the meeting, the Nats manager gave him a mouthful and (appropriately) was ejected on the spot.
Sometimes, a manager will get ejected to light a fire under his team. And sometimes it works. This time, it didn't. The Phillies kept the pressure on, and by the time Utley crushed a two-run homer off the right-field foul pole in the fifth, that 4-0 lead had morphed into a 7-4 deficit, and Marquis' afternoon had ended on a sour note.
"My team put myself in a good position to win a ballgame, and I wasn't able to get the job done," Marquis said. "I let them down."
Marquis (0-2 with a 12.96 ERA and only 8 1/3 innings pitched in two starts) deserves the lion's share of the blame. But he wasn't solely responsible for this loss. His defense didn't always help him, like when Ivan Rodriguez (nursing some upper back spasms that hinder his throwing ability) made an ill-advised throw to second on a sacrifice bunt attempt. And his offensive teammates didn't help, either, shutting down after a strong start against Hamels and held to one measly hit after the fourth inning.
"We got the opportunity. We jumped ahead 4-0, and against a pretty good pitcher," Rodriguez said. "But that's baseball. That's why you've got to play 27 outs."
Until the Nationals begin playing 27 outs every single night, they're going to have a difficult time hanging with the NL's elite.
And until they can hang with baseball's best, they're going to have a difficult time earning the respect they so desire but at this point have not been afforded.