A day after roughing up two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the Nationals defense and bullpen in the seventh inning combined to doom their attempt at taking the series, losing 5-4 to the Giants.
After Josh Willingham’s sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh increased the Nations lead to 4-2, John Bowker led off the bottom of the frame against starter Craig Stammen by reaching on a fielding error courtesy of Adam Dunn. With Bowker on first and pinch-hitter Bengie Molina at the plate, recently promoted Carlos Maldonado let a ball squirt by him that allowed Bowker to reach second. Stammen would retire Molina on a groundout, but Bowker would advance to third on the play. Nate Schierholtz pinch-hit for pitcher Santiago Casilla, and Riggleman answered with lefty Sean Burnett for the favorable match-up.
However, Schierholtz promptly singled in Bowker for third, followed by a double from Andres Torres and Burnett was pulled in favor of Tyler Walker with the tying and go-ahead run in scoring position. Freddy Sanchez, who came into the game batting .192 since being reinstated from the disabled list earlier this month, rudely greeted Walker with a two-run single to give the Giants the lead for good.
For the Giants, the damage was done by Sanchez, Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe. The three hitters combined to go 7-10 with a homer and four RBI. The rest of the Giants line-up contributed only two hits, the pinch-hit single by Schierholtz and the Torres double in the seventh. Barry Zito also had one of his poorest outings of the year, lasting 6.1 giving up all four Nationals runs on seven hits and five walks, raising his ERA on the year to 2.94.
On the bright side for the Nats, Craig Stammen was able to put together a nice start in what has otherwise been a rough year for him. His last previous three starts, Stammen had gone six innings or less and given up four runs each time. Tonight, Stammen went 6.2, striking out none while allowing two earned runs on five hits and three walks.
Also, Josh Willingham continued his torrid hitting as of late. He went 2-3 with a homer, his ninth of the year, and two RBI. Dunn added a homer of his own in the first inning, his tenth of the year, and also had a double in a 2-5 day.
With the loss, coupled together with the Braves win over the Marlins and the Mets third straight shut-out of the first place Phillies, the Nationals have fallen into a tie for last in the National League East with the Marlins at 24-24. Regardless, they remain just three games out of first behind the Phillies (26-20).
This is a tough one for the Nats. Riggleman made the right decision with bringing in Burnett to face Schierholtz. Burnett entered with a 1.71 ERA in the month of May and hadn’t given up an earned run since May 9th against the Marlins.
The only thing I didn’t quite understand about Riggleman’s decisions tonight was before the trouble in the seventh even started. He replaced Guzman in the outfield with Nyjer Morgan, without a doubt that right move. But, Adam Dunn came to plate in the top half of the seventh, and up two runs, you could’ve double-switched in Adam Kennedy, who later pinch hit anyway in the eight, for defensive purposes. Yes, the Nationals needed Dunn’s bat in the ninth today, but that’s because he botched the grounder in the seventh that set up the troublesome inning for the Nationals. In the Nats games I have seen this year, I’ve seen Riggs take Dunn out in the seventh or later for reasons just like that. So, in an inning where he’s already making switches, why not bring in Kennedy? But, hindsight is 20-20, and Dunn did homer and double earlier. Who knows.
The Nationals now continue working down the California coast, traveling to take on the surprising Padres (28-19) at Petco Park. Clayton Richard (4-2, 2.72) faces off against John Lannan (1-2, 5.55), who looks to build off his strong outing last time against the Orioles.