Nats fall with one crack of the bat
Ayala surrenders game-winning shot after critical ball call
WASHINGTON -- It's hard to fault the Nationals' bullpen these days. The relievers are the strength of the team and it showed on Tuesday night. They pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs, but one bad pitch by Luis Ayala proved costly as Washington was edged by the Phillies, 4-3, in front of 40,110 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
The score was tied at 3, when Ayala entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. His job was to get center fielder Aaron Rowand out on the outer part of the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, Ayala thought he did just that. Rowand didn't swing and the Nationals thought they had Rowand out on strikes, but home plate umpire Bob Davidson called the pitch a ball.
"It was a real good pitch, I thought," Washington catcher Brian Schneider said. "I don't want to sit here and rip Bob. I'm not going to do that. I want to see a replay of it first before I say anything about it, but in that situation, of course, you want that pitch to be called a strike. It wasn't missed location. It was kind of away. The ball sunk over. I don't want to say anything without seeing a replay."
Rowand thought the pitch was high. He overheard Schneider ask Davidson where the pitch was. Davidson replied that the pitch was indeed high.
"It could have just as easily been turned around and I could have been punched out," Rowand said.
Ayala threw the next pitch on the inside part of the plate, and Rowand hit a mammoth home run over the left-field fence to give Philadelphia the one-run lead. It was Rowand's third hit of the night. According to Schneider, Ayala was trying to go away, but the ball sunk middle in.
"It went in the happy zone. We were not trying to go there," Schneider said. "We didn't want to get beat on the short side of the park and we tried to make him hit it the other way. We made a mistake on the pitch and he made us pay."
Jason Bergmann started the game for Washington, but lasted 2 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits before leaving the game because of left hamstring tightness. He hurt the hamstring while getting thrown out at home plate in the top of the third inning by Pat Burrell.
In the second inning, Carlos Ruiz doubled to left field to drive in Rowand and give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.
In the next inning, Jimmy Rollins hit a home run to increase the lead to two. Chase Utley followed and walked before Bergmann left the game because of the hamstring injury.
Manager Manny Acta then brought in left-hander Billy Traber, who pitched three solid innings and gave up one run. Acta said Traber is still scheduled to start in the day/night doubleheader against the Mets on Saturday.
"[The bullpen] really didn't know what happened," Traber said. "They just said, 'Hey, come on down.' We didn't know why. The first thing we thought was, 'Why was [Bergmann] coming out of the game? After that, it was, 'Well, you are now in the game.' I was able to get as many warmup pitches as they said."
The Nationals came back and took the lead against right-hander Kyle Kendrick in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded, Schneider cleared the bases when he doubled to center field.
It looks like Schneider is getting out of his slump. He is 3-for-6 in his last two games and raised his average to .233. Prior to those two games, Schneider was in a 2-for-26 slump.
"It felt good to get some runs in for the team and give us the lead," Schneider said. "I've been feeling a lot better at the plate and hitting the ball better. They will start to fall in. I just have to be optimistic about it."
The Philles tied the score, however, in the sixth inning. With Traber on the mound, Rowand doubled with one out. Acta then brought in right-hander Chris Booker, who uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Rowand to advance to third. Pat Burrell then hit a sacrifice fly to right fielder Austin Kearns to send Rowand home.
"It was a well-pitched game. A 4-3 ballgame in this park, it's a pretty good game, pitching-wise, on both sides," Schneider said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.