Nationals let game get away late
Hernandez solid in return to Nats, but 'pen proves leaky
CHICAGO -- An errant throw by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and an unproductive bullpen spoiled a great outing by right-hander Livan Hernandez as the Cubs defeated the Nationals, 9-4, at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night.
The score was tied at 2, when the Cubs rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. With reliever Jason Bergmann on the mound, the Cubs had a runner on second and one out when Ryan Theriot blooped a ball to left-center field.
It appeared that center fielder Willie Harris was playing too deep as the ball fell in for a base hit to put runners on first and third. The truth is, Washington was playing Theriot to hit the ball to right-center field.
"He goes opposite field and he pulls a blooper. He got a hit. I couldn't have caught that ball," Harris said. "The only thing I could do was go after it and go as hard as I could. If it would have stayed up long enough, I would have gotten to it."
Milton Bradley was the next hitter and hit a slow roller to Zimmerman at third base. Zimmerman grabbed the ball and tried to get Koyie Hill at the plate, but made an errant throw to allow Hill to score.
Things would turn ugly in the bottom of the eighth inning for Washington as Chicago scored six runs. Replacing Ron Villone in the inning, Jorge Sosa was able to strike out Alfonso Soriano for the first out, but Sosa couldn't record the second out. The next six batters he faced reached before he left in favor of Saul Rivera. Sosa was charged with five of the six runs in the game.
Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman believed the turning point of the eighth inning was when Sosa forgot to cover first base on an infield hit by Jeff Baker.
"That inning could have been minimized if he covers first base on time," Riggleman said. "I feel terrible for him because it's runs on his record, on our team. It's details of the game. We have done a heck of a job taking care of the details of the game and, today, we didn't. You see what happens. I think Sosa's instincts told him that ball is down the line for a hit. He realized [Adam Dunn] got it, and it was too late then."
But the story of the game for Washington was Hernandez, making his second go-round with the Nationals. It was a typical ballgame the organization is used to. He went deep into the game, pitching six innings and giving up two runs on five hits.
He looked like the Hernandez of old, mixing in his breaking stuff with his 85-mph fastball and fielding his position better than any pitcher in baseball. For example, in the third inning, Cubs starter Rich Harden bunted the ball toward Hernandez, who decided to get the forceout at second base. It looked like Hernandez may have made a mistake, but he got Hill easily.
Hernandez's only blemish in the game was in the second inning, when he gave up a two-run homer to Bradley to make it a 2-1 game.
"I don't want him to coach. His actions will be enough. That will be coaching in itself," Riggleman said. "Guys will be smart enough to watch what he does and kind of take what he does. If they have something to ask, they will ask. ... We are not going to let him come and coach. We want him to pitch."
Hernandez has always wanted to come back to Washington and pitch for the Nationals ever since they traded him to the D-backs in July 2006. Numerous times he has told the team that he wanted to come back, but it didn't happen until general manager Mike Rizzo signed him to a Major League contract on Tuesday.
Hernandez received over 60 text messages from friends and family when word got out that he was returning to the organization he loved so much.
"It's nice to be back," Hernandez said. "I love the city. I've been asking every year to go back. Inside, it's very emotional. I'm very happy. I like to thank the people here for giving me a chance to come back."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.