Nats let game slip away late, lose game and series to San Fran

Yunesky Maya looked like a pitcher primed to get his first career major league victory, but a lack of run support wasted a strong outing. The Washington Nationals lost 3-1 to San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon on a controversal ending. Washington dropped two of three in the series to the defending champs with the defeat. Maya had the best start of his brief career, going six strong innings and held the Giants to four hits and one run. Matt Cain pitched a complete game five-hitter to avenge his loss to Washington on May 1st.

Danny Espinosa was up against Cain as the potential last out. With a two-strike fastball, Cain hit Espinosa in the hand with a pitch, but home plate umpire Sam Holbrook called the second baseman out. He said that Espi didn’t check his swing on the play and replays confirmed Holbrook made the correct call. Even though Espinosa moved the bat forward to try to protect himself, the rule states that “a player is called out if he swings at a two-strike pitch, regardless if it hits him.” Had he been awarded first base, Rick Ankiel would have represented the tying run and closer Brian Wilson would have gotten the call.

We got to that point because the bullpen woes continued. With the game tied 1-1, Sean Burnett came into the game in the 7th inning and allowed two runs on three hits. Brandon Crawford hit a triple to drive in Cody Ross and Eli Whiteside brought Crawford home with an RBI hit of his own. Burnett continued his struggles after such a strong start to the year, but has since lost his closer role and may be losing faith from his manager. His ERA rose to 5.96 on the year and he took the loss in relief.

Maya and Cain each threw five shutout innings to start the game and the 6th inning started just over an hour after the first pitch. The Nats rookie faced the minimum through that span on only 46 pitches and both baserunners were wiped out on the bases. Aubrey Huff singled to start the 2nd, but was doubled up on an Aaron Rowand blooper that Laynce Nix ran down. Crawford led off the next inning with a single, but was caught stealing. Wilson Ramos made a bad throw on the play, but shortstop Ian Desmond picked the ball on the run and tagged the runner in the same motion. Ramos leads the league in runners caught, throwing out nearly half of would-be base stealers.

The Achilles’ heel for the Cuban defector is having his outing unravel in one inning. He limited the damage to only one run in the 6th after back-to-back doubles and a walk. The Nats tied the game the next frame. Michael Morse singled, stole second on a botched hit and run, and scored on an Ankiel double with two outs. Burnett lost it for Washington shortly after. Todd Coffey worked his way out of trouble after Burnett left, but Cain was too unhittable on this day.

The Giants righty struck out a season high 11 batters and had the game-winning hit, baffling hitters with a plus fastball and a disappearing curve he threw for strikes. It was his 13th career complete game and gave San Fran a series win. From the eight starts I’ve seen Cain this year, this was by far his best stuff he’s had in 2011. That along with the Nats unable to hit gave him a dominating performance in front of 42,000 fans at AT&T Park.

Washington’s defense was very solid in this game, except for a few mistakes by Espi at second base. He failed to turn two double plays due to bad throws to first and had a mental error on the Crawford single. Nix filled in for Jayson Werth for the second straight game in right and made that great outfield assist in the 2nd. Morse continues to look like a natural at first despite being drafted as a shortstop years ago.

Unless the two teams meet in the playoffs, the Nats and Giants are finished facing each other this year. Washington took three of four at Nationals Park at the beginning of May, giving them the season series 4 games to 3. The Nats lost the series even though in all three games, their starting pitcher allowed one run and went at least six innings. Their bullpen continues to struggle and whether it’s mechanical or simply being overused, they have to figure it out sooner or later.

Manager Jim Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty were both in the dugout after missing yesterday’s win. Riggleman was serving a suspension and McCatty was at his son’s graduation. Washington has now alternated wins and losses for the past five days. This means that they are going to win tommorow, right? They start a four-game series at Petco Park against the San Diego Padres tomorrow.

RECORD: (27-35) [Lost 1]

NEXT GAME: Thursday, June 9, 2011: Nationals @ Padres (10:15pm ET)

PROBABLE PITCHERS: Livan Hernandez (3-7, 3.76) v. Aaron Harang (6-2, 3.77)

 

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