Defensive errors cost Nats against O's
Morgan makes homer-saving catch, scores three runs in loss
BALTIMORE -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was at a loss for words after watching his team lose to the Orioles, 7-6, at Camden Yards on Friday night.
The defeat was the result of a problem that has plagued Washington since Manny Acta managed the club: Poor defense.
It was defense that hurt Washington in the bottom of the ninth inning. The score was tied at 6 when Baltimore scored the game-winning run.
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Riggleman decided to allow reliever Tyler Clippard to pitch a second inning, even though he was hit hard in the eighth. Clippard, who is having an All-Star caliber season, convinced Riggleman that he could get it together and have a solid inning. Riggleman's confidence in Clippard didn't pay off, as the righty allowed one-out singles to Matt Wieters and Scott Moore.
Clippard was taken out of the game in favor of closer Matt Capps. It looked like Capps was going to get the job done. Julio Lugo hit a perfect double-play ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who threw a strike to second baseman Cristian Guzman, but Guzman threw the ball away past first baseman Adam Dunn and allowed pinch-runner Jake Fox to score the winning run. It was fourth error made by Washington in the game.
The team has now made a Major League-worst 67 errors on the season.
"You saw it. I'm not going to say anything specific, but the way we are playing in general -- defensively -- it isn't good enough," Riggleman said. "We do a lot of talking about it. We are out there working on it. But for some reason ... I really can't explain it. I know we put the work in. I feel bad for the players. It's an issue for them. They see the number of errors. They see the games get away from us, because we are not making plays. We have to find a way to change that."
Asked if changes needed to be made from a defensive standpoint, Riggleman said, "It's not football. I can't put a defensive team and an offensive team out there. You play both ways. We just have to play better."
Lost in the game was that center fielder Nyjer Morgan put on a show with the bat and glove. Morgan ended up going 4-for-5 with three runs scored.
Morgan entered the game hitting .244 and was 17-for-76 (.224) during the month of June. Baseball critics were wondering if it was time for Morgan to be sent to the Minor Leagues or to be benched in favor of Roger Bernadina. But Riggleman announced before the game that he was sticking with Morgan, who didn't disappoint his skipper.
Morgan started things off in the first inning by hitting a single to right off Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. Morgan would later score on a groundout by Dunn.
Two innings later, Morgan singled, stole second and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Dunn.
In the bottom of the third, it looked like Corey Patterson was going to hit a home run off J.D. Martin, but Morgan climbed the wall and robbed Patterson.
"It was a good play," Patterson said. "I think that's pretty much neck and neck, right below the catch Gary Mathews [Jr.] had in '06, in Texas. Gary was probably the best catch I've ever seen. But his was right behind it. I thought I had enough to get it [out], but he climbed up there, and it was a great catch. He does a great job for them, had a great game today."
Morgan didn't have much to say about the catch, because Washington lost the game.
"It was a nice catch, but the game hurts -- losing to the ballclub over there," Morgan said. "We have a really good team over here. We didn't bury them. That's what really hurts."
Morgan would get two more hits and score one more run before grounding out in the eighth inning.
Morgan wasn't the only hitting hero. Dunn drove in four runs, while the Nationals were up 6-0 after four innings.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, two costly errors by Desmond allowed Baltimore to score three unearned runs off Martin, who went 4 1/3 innings.
Baltimore would tie the score in the bottom of the eighth inning off Clippard. With Wieters on first, Moore hit a two-run homer to make it a 6-5 game. After Lugo flied out to Bernadina in right field, Cesar Izturis doubled and scored on a single by Paterson.
"I've never seen a reliever go through the season unblemished, and Tyler pretty much has," Riggleman said. "You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I was hoping it would happen to a lesser extent than it did tonight. And we could put the game away. He wasn't sharp. He couldn't get the ball down."
Clippard was devastated after the game. Clippard was so down that Ivan Rodriguez had to console the reliever. Rodriguez hugged him and said, "Forget about it. Tomorrow is a new day."
"I just couldn't get the ball down," Clippard said. "I didn't establish the strike zone early, so I was a little tentative after that and it cost me. I thought I settled down after the first inning. I wanted the ball. I wanted to go back out there. I felt I let us down in a big way. It's tough to swallow. So I have to brush this one off."
It will be hard if the Nationals don't improve their defense.