WASHINGTON, D.C.—It's difficult to believe that there is a living human being who has a harder time sleeping than Washington Nationals manager, Manny Acta. When the only thing worthy of a dugout clap is your hitter laying off an eye-high fastball things must not be going well.
On Wednesday night, Acta's Nats hosted Cincinnati.
Reds' manager, Dusty Baker, made another of his patented moronic moves to give Acta a shot to break out of the current funk in which they've lost 11 of their last 13 games.
Shairon Martis started for the Nats. Somehow Martis has a 5-1 record with a 5.31 ERA. On the bright side, he came into the contest sporting a 3-0 record with a 3.76 ERA when pitching in Nationals Park.
For the visiting Reds, workhorse Aaron Harang toed the rubber. His last outing was a heartbreaker. A complete game loss that saw St. Louis Cardinal pitcher, Chris Carpenter, baffle Reds' hitters to a tone of three hits.
In the top half of the second inning, Martis led off the inning by plunking Laynce Nix. Next batter, Ramon Hernandez, was robbed of a sure double when Ryan Zimmerman made a diving stab then staggered to his feet to gun down the Reds' first baseman by a step.
That play would prove crucial as the last-in-the-majors Nats pitching looked to be living up to their billing after Martis gave up first-pitch fastball, second-deck bomb courtesy of Jay Bruce.
Harang wasn't looking much better. His two-seamer was constantly up in the zone and in the wheelhouse of almost every Nat bat.
Harang is usually a fly ball pitcher—this season he's averaging about two fly ball outs for every groundout.
Wednesday night though, discounting two failed bunt attempts, he did not record a ground out until the home half of the eighth inning.
Still, besides a somewhat rocky sixth he was pitching well and hurling shutout ball.
In that sixth inning, Zimmerman tried to lead off with a bunt down the third base line. Jerry Hairston Jr., who was playing deep, rushed in, made the barehanded grab, and threw to first to nick Zimmerman.
With one down in the sixth Dunn worked a full-count walk. Elijah Dukes, who had homered the night before, was only good for a fly ball to Bruce this time. Two down and a runner at first—Josh Willingham worked Harang for another walk.
Hardly what the Reds' pitcher wanted, Rafael Belliard stepped into the box. Belliard had already hit two Harang pitches sharply—one for a single. Coming into the game, his career batting average was .438 against Harang.
What was to follow epitomizes everything about Washington Nationals baseball.
With the go-ahead run at the plate, Dunn strayed too far from second and Hanigan alertly threw a bullet to the shortstop, Gonzalez, picking off the former Red for the final out of the inning.
They could have called the game then and there.
Martis came out and pitched a respectable seventh. Relievers, Joel Hanrahan and Joe Beimel pitched perfect three-up, three-down eighth and ninth innings.
Bottom of the ninth, Coco Cordero on the hill for the Reds. He walks Dukes in the pouring rain.
With bolts of lightning, and Willingham at the plate, the umps had no choice but to halt the game—after a two hour and ten minute rain delay play resumed with Willingham facing...Coco?
Dusty? What are you thinking?
Coco has been on the bench for over two hours! Give the ball to Masset.
Of course, Coco blew the save, two runs score, and after the delay fans (about 50 remained) were treated to extra innings.
In the twelfth, after Jay Bruce took advantage of the Nats worst defense in baseball, and cruised into an uncovered third base on a missed Hanigan bunt attempt—the Reds' nearly blew it when Hanigan hit into a run-down double play where Bruce couldn't make up his mind to break for the plate or not.
It didn't matter. Pinch hitter, Jonny Gomes, continued his hot hitting with a double past Dunn. Hairston drove Gomes in with a single, but was nabbed trying to stretch it.
David Weathers pitched the bottom of the frame, and thankfully this game finally ended.
Even Reds' fans should feel bad for Manny Acta, or at least wish that he gets a good night of sleep.
If all things were fair in life, Dusty's decision to leave Coco in the game after the long rain delay should have cost him a loss. We got lucky tonight.
Final score an ulcer-inducing 4-2 win for the good guys.