Nationals let game slip away
Error leads to winning run after Batista's clutch homer
LOS ANGELES -- It's no secret that the Nationals are not very good offensively. So Nationals manager Manny Acta realizes in order to win games, his team must get solid defense and relief pitching.
The relievers and defense were shaky late in Tuesday's game, and it ended up costing the Nationals as they lost to the Dodgers, 4-3, in front of 49,698 at Dodger Stadium.
The game was tied at 3 in the seventh, when the Dodgers took the lead for good. With one out and right-hander Chris Schroder on the mound, pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney doubled to right-center field. Rafael Furcal followed and walked to put runners on first and second.
Left-hander Ray King entered the game to face the left-handed-hitting Juan Pierre, who hit a routine bouncer to shortstop Felipe Lopez, but the ball went under Lopez's glove to load the bases.
"I'm thinking double play in that situation," King said. "I went back and looked at the replay and it's a tough error. Would Lopez make that nine [times] out of 10? Who knows? The ball hopped and I wish I could have put a little more water in front of home plate and we turned that double play and we get out of the inning."
Lopez was unavailable for comment about the error on Tuesday. It marked the second game in a row in which Lopez made a critical miscue. On Monday, Lopez bobbled a routine ground ball that helped the Dodgers score three run in the sixth inning in a 5-4 loss for D.C.
The Nationals would pay for Lopez's error on Tuesday. Andre Ethier was the next hitter, and he hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Sweeney for the game-winning run.
Washington has now lost five games in a row to drop its record to 58-74, and Acta is getting a sense that he may have to call a team meeting to make sure that his team gets on a winning course. He has said recently that he doesn't want his team to end the season on a bad note.
"It's coming," said Acta, referring to the team meeting. "I will probably wait until the September callups. That way I don't have to repeat myself twice in a week."
Tuesday's game also marked the return of Jason Bergmann, who missed over a month because of tightness in his left hamstring, and he ended up having his best start since May 14, when he no-hit the Braves for seven innings. Bergmann pitched six innings and gave up three runs on six hits.
"It was a battle the whole time. I really didn't have good command of my off-speed stuff, but the fastball was there when I needed to go to it," Bergmann said. "The slider was not very good. My curveball was up. I'm just not hitting my spots with those pitches, which were treating me really well during my rehab assignments. But the fastball was there and I'm very happy that I had that."
After retiring the side in order in the first inning, things were shaky in the next two. With the bases loaded in the second inning, Shea Hillenbrand singled to left to drive in Jeff Kent and Russell Martin and give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. In the following inning, Los Angeles built a two-run lead as Kent hit an 0-1 curveball for his 17th home run of the season.
But the Nationals managed to come back against Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley. In the fourth inning, Brian Schneider hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Ronnie Belliard, and Tony Batista hit a pinch-hit home run in the top of the seventh to tie the score at 3. It was his first home run of the season. Batista is now hitting .333 with 12 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.
"It was a great feeling, especially because he hit it to the opposite field, which is not his strength. He is usually a pull hitter," Acta said. "Tony has been tremendous for us. It's too bad it gets lost in the ballgame. It's nice to see that power is there and he continues to give us quality at-bats."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.