Tough break, missed chances cloud home opener
Zimmermann strong, but Nats hurt by key replay review, baserunning
WASHINGTON -- The Braves got to reliever Tyler Clippard and defeated the Nationals, 2-1, in the home opener at Nationals Park on Friday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 42,834. It was Washington's first loss under manager Matt Williams after winning the first three games of the season.
The score was tied at 1 when Atlanta took the lead in the eighth inning off Clippard, who walked leadoff batter Jason Heyward. Following Freddie Freeman's one-out single that advanced Heyward to third, Chris Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to Jayson Werth in right field, scoring Heyward. Clippard looked at the leadoff walk to Heyward as the turning point of the game.
"It's Relieving 101," Clippard said. "You don't walk the leadoff guy, especially during a tied ballgame like that. That's what ultimately got me. [The pitch to Johnson] was a fastball away. He just bobbed it up. It was one of those weird baseball things. If it was 10 feet in, [Werth] might have thrown him out."
The Nationals had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the inning against right-hander David Carpenter, but they couldn't bring the runner home. Washington had runners on first and second with no outs, but Carpenter struck out Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper to end the threat.
"Carpenter was good. After the first two guys, he settled in," LaRoche said. "He walked Jayson on four straight pitches, and then he punched us out, so he has some pretty good stuff when he is around the zone."
LaRoche was involved in a play at the plate during the fourth inning. With LaRoche on first and one out, Zimmerman doubled over the head of Justin Upton in left field, and third-base coach Bob Henley waved LaRoche home, where he was easily thrown out.
Both Williams and LaRoche said Henley was trying to be aggressive on the bases.
"The players like it when their third-base coach is aggressive," LaRoche said. "If you do that enough times, it's going to pay off quite a bit. I didn't see the relay. I got hung up a little bit at second for just a split second thinking [Upton] might catch it. Obviously, I was thrown out by quite a bit. It's one of those things in the game."
Williams said the Nationals needed to score runs and didn't mind Henley sending LaRoche.
"We want to be aggressive in that situation, too," Williams said. "The ball went over Justin's head. It bounced off his body. [Henley] made a read, and [shortstop Andrelton] Simmons' throw was right on the money."
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann recovered from a fever and pitched five strong innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out nine. The run came courtesy of Evan Gattis' home run in the fifth inning.
"Health-wise, I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday," Zimmermann said. "Yesterday, it was rough. I got some fluids and some rest. I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. I called [Williams], and I was good to go. I was able to go five, and he thought that was enough."
It looked like the Nationals had tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the fifth inning against right-hander David Hale.
Ian Desmond led off by hitting a line drive that came to rest under the padding of the wall located in foul territory down the left-field line. Upton raised his arms in an attempt to alert umpires to call a ground-rule double. When third-base umpire Marvin Hudson did not make an immediate ruling, Upton picked the ball up and threw it back to the infield as Desmond completed what appeared to be an inside-the-park home run until Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez issued a challenge that led to the play being reviewed.
After consulting with an umpire located at Major League Baseball's Replay Operations center, crew chief Jim Joyce signaled for Desmond to return to second base with a ground-rule double -- instituting Rule 7.05f, which states a runner will be awarded "two bases, if a fair ball bounces or is deflected into the stands outside the first or third base foul lines; or if it goes through or under a field fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery or vines on the fence; or if it sticks in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines."
"It just went under the fence. Knowing the rule, I just put my hands up." Upton said. "I looked in and it didn't look like Marvin was coming out to look at it. So, Simmons was panicking, telling me to throw the ball. So I picked it up and threw it.
"The only thing I was really worried about was the fact that I did go in and get the ball. But with replay, they could kill that play knowing it was under the fence."
Williams questioned the call being overturned because Upton picked up the ball.
"That was my question, but when there was no signal from the umpire throwing his hands up saying it was a ground-rule double or lodged underneath, Justin reached down and picked it up and threw it in. By that time, Ian scored," Williams said. "So that was my question. But they reviewed it and determined the ball was lodged underneath the fence."
Moments later, Desmond was caught stealing after making an ill-advised break toward third base.
"We want to take advantage of it when it's there for us, but we also want to make sure that we are sure in that situation, so it was little overaggressive," Williams said about Desmond getting caught.
Desmond acknowledged that he made a mistake getting thrown out. It was his decision to steal third.
"I thought I had something. About halfway, I didn't have what I thought I had. I was in panic mode," Desmond said.
Washington tied the score an inning later off reliever Gus Schlosser, when Anthony Rendon scored on a sacrifice fly by Zimmerman.
But it wasn't enough for the Nationals against their National League East rival.