Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez pitched well for 6 1/3 innings but was charged with the loss.
One of those moments came today, with one out in the top of the seventh inning at Nationals Park. Pinch-hitter Nick Evans' double just inside the first-base line off Sean Burnett scored Josh Thole from second and gave the Mets a 3-2 lead that held up the rest of the afternoon.
"It's a game of inches," Jim Riggleman said afterward. "When you're winning games, those things go your way. And when you're not winning games, they don't seem to go your way. A right-handed hitter hitting a ball against a left-handed pitcher down the first-base line? You might see that two or three times a year. That's about it."
Yes, that's about it. The moment itself was pretty simple. But a lot more went into making that moment possible, from tough decisions by both managers to pitch selection by Burnett to Adam Dunn's attempt to corral the ball.
Here's what led up to the moment that decided today's game...
Livan Hernandez had been pitching another solid, if unspectacular ballgame. He allowed two runs in the third, but settled in after that and had retired four of the last five batters he faced when the pitcher's spot came up for New York with Thole on second and one out in a tie game.
"I threw the ball good," the veteran right-hander said. "I was throwing the ball wherever I want. My breaking ball was working perfectly."
Hernandez was sitting on 95 pitches, hardly a hefty workload for him, so he was somewhat surprised when he saw Riggleman emerge from the dugout.
"I can finish the inning, I think," he said.
Riggleman, though, didn't want Hernandez facing Mets leadoff man Angel Pagan (a switch-hitter) with a runner in scoring position. And once New York manager Jerry Manuel sent left-handed pinch-hitter Lucas Duda to the plate, Riggleman felt he needed to counter with the left-handed Burnett.
Manuel immediately countered back by having the right-handed Green pinch-hit for Duda, though Riggleman was ready for such a move.
"I went ahead and brought [Burnett] in knowing that they would pull the left-hander back and put a right-hander up," Riggleman said. "I'm very confident with Burnett against righties. So that's the decision I made."
BURNETT VS. EVANS
Burnett's plan against Evans (or just about any right-handed hitter he faces) was to keep throwing sinkers on the outside corner. And he did just that, throwing five outside fastballs. The first two were called strikes. The the last three Evans fouled off awkwardly toward the first-base dugout and stands, one of them striking Nats coach Pat Listach in the arm.
With the count now 2-2 after three straight foul balls, Burnett decided to change things up a bit. Instead of throwing another sinker away, he decided to try to come inside.
"He was taking some funky swings and hitting them over the dugout," Burnett said. "So I figured I could take a chance in and probably get it in on him, and I did."
Indeed, Burnett's 2-2 fastball was in on the hands and shattered Evans' bat. The ball, though, bounced down the first-base line, barely staying fair.
"As a pitcher, you don't want to go to the well one too many times," Burnett said. "It was a good pitch. It broke his bat. It just happened to find a hole."
Evans was still worried about his earlier foul ball that struck Listach in the dugout.
"I thought I hit the guy in the face," he said. "I didn't see it. I was just trying to do something to hit the ball out over the plate. I'm just lucky it found a hole."
DUNN CAN'T MAKE THE PLAY
The ball wasn't all that well-struck -- it was a broken bat, after all -- so Adam Dunn might have had a play on it at first base. The big guy made a lumbering stab to his left but never came all that close. The ball rolled down the right-field line and Evans wound up coasting into second base.
The play was scored a double, not an error, and it was the correct call. It was far from a routine play.
Few would ever expect the defensively challenged Dunn to make that play. Would a better defensive first baseman have hauled it in? Maybe, though it would have been an above-average play to get to the ball, especially with it hooking in the opposite direction you'd normally expect off a right-handed hitter's bat.
"When you're a left-handed pitcher, right-handed hitter, everything that comes your way [at first base] is going to be [to your right]," Riggleman said. "It just was unfortunate. Burnett pitched him really good. Livo pitched a really good ballgame, and doesn't have anything to show for it."
Indeed, that one moment turned the entire game. The Mets took a 3-2 lead. Hernandez was on the hook for his 11th loss of the season. The Nationals never mounted a serious rally against the New York bullpen.
And thus the Nats lost a ballgame, lost a series and fell back to 20 games under .500. In the big scheme, no big deal. But on this day, it was a tough pill to swallow.
"It stinks," Burnett said. "Livan threw such a good game. It's tough. You don't want to give up other people's runs, especially when a guy throws such a good game. It also gives him a loss. That's the toughest part.
"I felt like I was doing what I had to. I took a chance by going in, and unfortunately it didn't work out. But at the same time, it was more unlucky than it was a bad pitch."
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while, one unlucky moment can decide a ballgame.