The Washington Nationals did something on Thursday night that the team has never done in franchise history, dating back to 1969 with the Montreal Expos. Unfortunately this isn’t one to brag about, as it represented the team’s biggest blown lead in team history, losing 9-10 to the Chicago Cubs after leading 8-0.
The Nationals put up seven runs in the third inning, matching their highest scoring output in an inning this season. Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Roger Bernadina all had RBIs in the inning.
Rick Ankiel had an RBI double of his own in the bottom of inning No. 4 to put Washington up by eight.
Even though Nats’ starter Livan Hernandez had been struggling, Manager Davey Johnson decided to stay with him in order to get his bullpen, which has been taxed in recent days, some much needed rest. But that turned out to be a bad decision, as the Cubs came roaring back, putting up a six spot in the top of the sixth via an RBI single by Alfonso Soriano, a double for shortstop Darwin Barney and a three-run, pinch hit home run off the bat of second baseman Blake DeWitt.
“I just said ‘I’m just gonna stay with Livo. Livo will get me an out,’” Johnson said. “And boy he left one right over the middle of the plate to DeWitt and that was the big blow as far as I’m concerned. That was the momentum shifter.”
Chicago’s first baseman Carlos Pena tied the game at eight in the top of the seventh with a two-run shot off of Nats’ lefty reliever Sean Burnett. It was Pena’s 19th home run of the year, and his second in the past two days.
The Cubs did the improbable, coming all the way back to take the lead in the top of the eighth as third baseman Aramis Ramirez hit a two-out single to score shortstop Starlin Castro and put Chicago up 8-9.
But the Nats tied it up yet again in the eighth. Center fielder Roger Bernadina led off the inning with a single. He then stole second base and scored on a Morse single.
Though they scored one run in the inning, Johnson made a decision that was out of character for him. Since taking over as the Nats’ manager, Johnson has stressed that he is an offensive manager who likes to hit home runs. So it was strange when, in the eighth inning, with lefty reliever Sean Marshall on the mound, Johnson called for the bunt with Danny Espinosa at the plate. It would make more sense if he were facing a righty, as Espinosa is hitting just .225/.318/.450 against righties this season, but has destroyed lefties to the tune of .309/.380/.543.
“I’ve got the 3-4 hitters coming up. I don’t like to bunt. That’s not one of the things I want to do,” Johnson said. “When I’m at home, I’m gonna try and tie the game rather than wait for someone to hit one out or maybe hit into a double-play.”
They could have used that potential run, as the Cubs took the lead for the final time on a double off the right field wall by Barney in the top of the ninth to score speedy center fielder Tony Compana, putting the Cubs up 10-9.
While the team cannot dwell on Thursday night’s collapse, it hurts in the present, especially to Johnson.
“I’m gonna have a hard time sleeping tonight on that one,” he said.