Nats' late rally still can't top Tigers
Chico turns in his worst game of season versus Detroit
WASHINGTON -- One thing can be said about this year's version of the Nationals: They are going to play hard until the last out. They demonstrated that fact on Monday night at RFK Stadium, but came up short in a 9-8 loss to the Tigers.
At one point, the Nationals were down, 9-1, and then, 9-5, before almost pulling it out in the ninth inning against closer Todd Jones. Cristian Guzman hit a two-run triple with no outs, while Felipe Lopez had an RBI single to make it a one-run game. Ryan Zimmerman then singled to put runners on first and second.
With no outs, the Tigers left Jones in the game and the Nationals had the heart of the order -- Dmitri Young and Austin Kearns -- up next.
"We had the heart of the order and I thought we had a chance to do it. We did everything right up to that point. It was a good fight for our guys," manager Manny Acta said.
Young is Washington's hottest hitter and also a former Tiger. A hit would have been sweet revenge against the team that released him last September. However, it took Jones seven pitches to strike Young out.
"He has been carrying us. You think right there, you have a good shot. I'm sure there was a little extra incentive for him," Kearns said.
Kearns was next up at the plate. A player expected to be a run producer, Kearns has yet to step it up in the RBI department this year. This was his big chance to at least tie the score, but he swung at Jones' first pitch -- a fastball -- and hit into a force play to put runners at first and third and two outs.
Ronnie Belliard then entered the game as a pinch-hitter. Belliard worked the count to 3-2 before swinging at Jones' breaking ball and grounding out to shortstop Carlos Guillen to end the game.
"He threw the breaking ball hard and I was looking for it," Belliard said. "We came back and almost tied the game. The guys did a pretty good job to keep playing hard. You never know what can happen in nine innings."
Although Jones had a shaky outing, he felt he got the job done.
"I live in a pass/fail world, and tonight I passed," Jones said. "I gave up runs. You guys can laugh at me, make fun of me all you want, but I tell you what: I'm going to be out there the next time, and I'm going to keep getting the job done."
Then there are the what ifs in the game. In the second inning, the Nationals could have prevented the Tigers from scoring if center fielder Nook Logan was able to catch Marcus Thames's fly ball.
With one out and runners on second and third, Thames hit what looked like a catchable ball to short right-center field, but Logan misread it and it dropped in for an RBI.
"I just froze. It was hit at the end of the bat. I took a second too long," Logan said.
In the fifth, with a runner on second, Curtis Granderson hit a fly-ball near the left-field line. It looked like outfielder Ryan Church had a read on it, but he dropped the ball near the stands and Granderson later walked and scored in the inning.
"It's just one of those things where you have to calm down and relax. Instead of reaching with two [hands] I should have reached out with one," Church said.
Then, there was the poor outing by Matt Chico, who gave up a career-high eight runs on nine hits in four-plus innings. He knew there could be problems before the game started, for all his pitches were up in the strike zone during his bullpen session.
"I took it into the game instead of just letting it go," Chico said.
By the second inning, it was clear that he had nothing in the tank. The Tigers scored two runs in the second inning and then Chico gave up a home run to Carlos Guillen two innings later. In the fifth inning, disaster struck as the Tigers scored six runs to make it a 9-1 game.
"I just fell behind the counts way too much. I start relying on the off-speed pitches. You can't do that against a team like this. You have to be aggressive and go at them," Chico said. "I was leaving the fastball up. You can't do that. I misplaced some balls and got into some troubles."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.