Nats Lose Heartbreaker In The Ninth, Closer Situation Called Into Question

The first game in a wraparound series with the Milwaukee Brewers ended in a meltdown for the Washington Nationals, who held onto a slim 2-1 lead through eight innings only to lose it in the ninth behind another rough outing by Tyler Clippard. On the bright side, the Braves lost, so the Nats magic number is down to seven now with 12 games remaining, and the division lead held at 5.5 games. There’s nothing to worry about, but it sure was a frustrating loss after such an exciting game the night before.

Before the ninth inning breakdown, the story of the night was the starting pitchers. Edwin Jackson went a masterful eight innings giving up just one run on a Jonathan Lucroy home run to lead off the second inning. He scattered just six hits, struck out six, and perhaps most important, didn’t walk anyone.

Jackson got into a bit of a jam in the fourth inning, but some incredible defense got him out of it. He gave up a leadoff double to Ryan Braun, and Aramis Ramirez followed up with a single to center. As Braun rounded third trying to score, Bryce Harper came up firing. He threw a perfect strike to Jesus Flores who applied a great tag on Braun at home and saved what would have been the game-tying run. Here’s a video of the awesome throw:

Jackson threw 101 pitches in eight innings, and when asked in the post-game press conference about Jackson’s performance, manager Davey Johnson said, “Jackson pitched a great ball game. I was tempted to let him go out in the ninth.” But he went with Tyler Clippard, because was “fresh.” To start he ninth, Norichika Aoki, the Brewers speedy right fielder, bunted for a hit that looked to throw everything out of whack for Clippard, and it was all downhill from there. “I mean, the play of the ninth inning was Aoki’s bunt,” Davey said. “We’re playing in, and he made a perfect bunt. And a couple passed balls didn’t help.”

They certainly didn’t. There was only one official passed ball on Flores and one wild pitch on Clippard, but either way, they allowed the Brewers to pile on three runs in the inning and hand the Nats the loss.

The game reopened the door on the closer conversation a bit, because earlier in the day, Davey named Drew Storen and Clippard the team’s co-closers. It doesn’t look like that will change for now. As for the near future Davey said, “Well, with the number of pitches [Clippard] threw tonight,… Storen will be the guy tomorrow.”

Some thoughts:

- Recently, Jackson has had much more movement on all of his pitches, especially his fastball and slider. He hung the slider to Lucroy for a home run, but that was really his only mistake with the pitch. As the season wears on, maybe a little bit of fatigue has allowed him to get some more action on his pitches. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

- Yes, Clippard has struggled a bit lately. He’s earned a loss in three of his last seven appearances, and he doesn’t seem to be fooling anyone like he did earlier this season. In all reality, it’s probably time to consider reinstating Storen as the team’s closer.

That said, there is absolutely no excuse for booing Clippard during this outing. He has 32 saves this season and is a major reason the Nats are in this position at all. It is remarkably shortsighted as a fan to do anything but hang your head, give a polite golf clap, and move on to the next game. I hoped for better from a group of fans that clinched a postseason spot barely 24 hours earlier.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.