The 2013 Washington Nationals (54-59) have seemed to lack the on-field passion they played with in 2012. On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Braves (69-45) nearly inspired some of that fabled Natitude, with a benches-clearing incident in the fifth inning. But, the Nationals’ fire was soon extinguished, and they fell to the Braves, 2-1.
In the third inning, Bryce Harper crushed the first pitch he saw to straight-away centerfield, sending the ball rolling down the grassy berm of the batter’s eye and giving the Nats an early 1-0 lead. The blast measured in at 437 feet, the farthest a National has hit a home run this season.
Harper jogged around the bases at a 23.66-second clip, – the slowest home run trot of his career, according to TaterTotTracker.com – kissed his fingers when he reached home plate and raised them toward the sky (video). The gesture was presumably a tribute to Harper’s 13-year-old friend, Gavin Rupp, who recently passed away from cancer.
But apparently Braves’ pitcher Julio Teheran thought Harper was trying to show him up, and that’s when things got spicy.
Teheran proceeded to hit Harper in the thigh with the first pitch of his next at-bat. Harper had some choice words for Teheran, which he emphatically shared during his walk to first base. Within seconds the benches and the bullpens were deserted, though no scuffling actually broke out on the field and the situation diffused quickly.
Some people say the best retaliation is victory, however, the drama was not quite enough to ignite the Nats bats. Harper started a two-out rally with a single in the seventh, and an error and a walk loaded the bases. Nationals Park was roaring with the cheers of 30-thousand fans begging for Adam LaRoche to slam a hit into the outfield.
Instead, he tapped a slow roller to first base, and the Nationals came up short, just as they have all season.
After the seventh inning, the following six batters all struck out, lowering the Atlanta bullpen’s ERA to an MLB-best 2.41, and another sparkling outing from a Nats starter was again wasted.
Gio Gonzalez was charged with the loss, despite allowing only two runs over seven innings and striking out five. He had faced the minimum through two and two-thirds innings, when Teheran disrupted his modest no-hitter with a double down the right-field line.
Yet again, the Nationals’ offense was not able to come through with any support. Harper was the only batter to record more than one hit, and the offense as a whole collected only five. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and left nine runners on base.
The Nationals’ third consecutive loss advanced the Braves’ winning streak to 12 games, and pushed their lead on the NL East to 14.5 games.
In his postgame press conference, Davey Johnson was visibly deflated, though he did not speak to how the Nationals standings affected him or the team.
“I never look too much about how many you’re up or how many you’re behind,” Johnson said. “It’s how you play every day. We just need to play better. It’s that simple.”
From 14.5 games back, the Nationals’ chances at winning the division are virtually eliminated. However, if they want to finish with a winning record, taking Johnson’s advice and “playing better” is going to be a necessity.