The small things added up to the difference as Nats score 4 in the 9th and lose 5-4

The score in the game through the 8 1/3 innings was 1-0 in favor of the Cubs after Gio Gonzalez pitched great and went 6 innings of 1 run baseball. The Nationals could not score a run for the first 8 innings of the game. The Nats did not play there best game, clearly, but they were in a position to win it after a spirited comeback in the 9th inning.

In the 8th inning with a 1-0 deficit, there was a very costly poor decision (here) by Daniel Murphy to throw to 2nd base for a force-out with one out instead of getting the sure out at 1st base which put men on 2nd base and 1st base with one out. That led eventually to a run on an aggressive squeeze that everyone knew was coming, but the Nats did not pitch-out rather allowed the pinch-hitter to push bunt it and the 2nd run of the game scored.

In the bottom of the 8th, Ryan Zimmerman came up with men on 1st and 2nd and he represented the winning run but he grounded out for the 3rd out to extend the 2-0 deficit to the 9th inning.

Dusty Baker had another big decision and he went to Matt Grace to pitch the 9th inning. Grace gave up 3-runs in the inning to push a 5-0 lead into the 9th inning. This is where the fun started as Daniel Murphy led-off the inning with a double. Anthony Rendon had a broken bat flair that defensive replacement Jon Jay came in and dove for it and gloved it for the first out of the inning. Matt Wieters singled to break up the shutout and Joe Maddon pulled Hector Rondon and brought in his closer, Wade Davis. Davis was promptly met by a Michael Taylor booming double off of the out-of-town scoreboard. Stephen Drew doubled to make the score 5-3 as the tying run was Trea Turner in the batter’s box. Turner worked the count from 2 strikes to 3-2 to a walk. Brian Goodwin stepped in as the winning run but struck out. That brought Bryce Harper to the plate and he hit a flair single just over the shortstop. With bases loaded, Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate needing a single to tie the game and in a 1-2 count Wade Davis uncorked a wild pitch making the score 5-4. Trea Turner was now standing on 3rd base and Bryce Harper representing the winning run on 2nd base and in the 2-2 count Wade Davis got Ryan Zimmerman flailing at a 2-2 curve in the dirt for the strikeout and game over (here).

It was a high-energy comeback attempt as every Nats position player had at least one-hit except for Ryan Zimmerman who was 0-for-5 with 5 men left-on-base. It’s a team loss but the MVP-candidate had several chances in the game to make a positive impact and did not as he finished with two strikeouts and three groundouts.

“[Wade Davis] has been one of the best in the game for a while, and he still is,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “I got one good pitch to hit, and usually that’s all you get against guys like that. Obviously, you want to win the game. There’s no consolation prizes or anything like that. But to come back and make it a game, I think it says something about our team.”

On the final at-bat of the game, Ryan Zimmerman did not see a pitch in the zone although pitch #1 was called a strike most of the night for Gio Gonzalez. Zimmerman helped Wade Davis by swinging at pitch #3 and pitch #6 which was in the dirt. Instead of working a walk and moving the line, Zimmerman went down swinging.

Line-up construction seems to have been a factor in the game as Bryce Harper had 3-hits in the game and was robbed of a 4th hit (here) and Zimmerman was not able to get on-base or score Harper which was reminiscent of the Nats series last Mother’s Day in Chicago when Maddon and the Cubs’ pitchers walked Harper in front of Zimmerman a total of six times when Zimmerman left an MLB record 14 men left-on-base. Last night, four innings ended with Zimmerman outs as he left 5 men on-base last night including the tying and winning runs in scoring position last night.

The chess game was on in this game and Joe Maddon‘s impact was felt immediately in line-up construction when he led-off Willson Contreras for the first time in his career, and he hit a lead-off home run. Other moves by Maddon was pulling his starter, Eddie Butler, after just 5 innings and 64-pitches because Maddon knows the limitations of his own pitcher and gladly accepted the 5 inning shutout. Maddon would use up his 7 relievers which could have backfired on him as well as the suicide squeeze he called for. Even though the back of Maddon’s bullpen bent, they didn’t break while Dusty Baker‘s bullpen ordering and usage was once again called into question. The Baker line-up card left Zimmerman after Harper in the line-up instead of flipping Zim and Murphy as suggested, but the biggest move was putting in and leaving Matt Grace in the game to give up 3-earned runs. Forget the errors and mental errors in the late innings — Grace took the mound with a 2-0 deficit and the top of the 9th finished with a 5-0 deficit.

The Nationals were close, but not close enough. In the end, the offense tried to pick-up the issues of the bullpen — but it was not meant to be.

“We were a hit away from winning that game,” Dusty Baker said. “And our guys didn’t quit. It was a great comeback.”

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