Commentary: Dissecting the 13th inning of a roller coaster 4-3 Nationals loss

Despite Craig Stammen’s second consecutive strong start, or the lights out performance of the bullpen, or even Nyjer Morgan’s clutch hitting, the Nationals lost 4-3 in a 13 inning thriller to the Dodgers. The loss drops the club back to .500 and saw them squander a chance to beat one of the best pitchers in the National League, Clayton Kershaw.

It all came down to the bottom of the 13th inning. The Nationals were down one after allowing a single up the middle to catcher Russell Martin, putting the Dodgers ahead 4-3. After Alberto Gonzalez led-off the inning with a ground-out, the Nationals chances looked slim. Owners of a 12.2 % win expectancy, Washington pinch-hit with their injured starting catcher, Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge came through with a clutch single, instantly improving their Win Expectancy to 22.3% by virtue of having the tying runner on board.

Next up was Nyjer Morgan, the very same batter who put the game in extra innings by driving in the tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning. The center fielder smacked a double to right-field. Not wanting to make the second out at home, the Nationals held Rodriguez at third in order to keep the tying, and winning runs in scoring position. With the double the clubs win expectancy instantly jumped to 55.6% as they had the tying and winning runs on with only one out and the number two and three hitters up. In only two plate appearances the club went from having a 88% chance of losing to a 55.6% chance of winning.

With Desmond at the plate the youngster inherited several defined responsibilities. At best, he could hit a single and drive in both Rodriguez and Morgan and win the game in a walk off. His duty though, the least he was expected to do, was hit a fly ball anywhere in the outfield to drive home Pudge and give Guzman a chance to win it in the next at bat. If he was going to fail, the least he could do was hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield that, if placed right, could drive in Rodriguez.

Instead, Desmond did the worst possible thing he could do. The young shortstop grounded to third base, hitting it directly behind the runner Ivan Rodriguez. With a strong lead, Pudge couldn’t return to the bag, and made the choice to sprint home to try and beat the throw. While it was close, Rodriguez was called out at the plate and the Nationals went from having the tying and winning runners in scoring position with one out, to having only one runner in scoring position with two outs.

20100424_dodgers_nationals_0_114_lbig_Guzman flew out to left to end the game in the final at bat. The Nationals had gone from a win expectancy 12% to start the inning, to a 55% chance with one out, to a 0% chance, all in the matter of five plate appearances, representing a total change of 98%.

For Desmond the loss has to be sobering. It’s not as if he tried to hit a sharply hit grounder right to third base, the shortstop was hitting with two strikes and was trying to put the ball in play for his team. But that right there is the difference, the Nationals are a young team who want’s to learn how to win, and situations like that are what separates a .400 team from a .600 team.

A veteran may have come up with the fly ball for the Washington, or maybe even a single. But for for the Nationals the class is still in session, and they can add this one to the their notebooks.