CLEVELAND: The Nationals are known as a team that can’t hit.
Maybe that’s true most of the time. But Saturday night at Progressive Field, they blew a five-run lead, rallied to tie then beat the Indians in the ninth 7-6.
How did they do it? Mostly by hitting home runs. Granted, they didn’t get much bang for their buck. Five home runs produced only five runs, but that’s irrelevant when one wins the game in the ninth inning.
Anthony Rendon played the part of Tribe killer when his two-out homer off Vinnie Pestano cleared the wall in right for the first home run of his career. But never should have happened.
Immediately before the homer, Rendon lifted a high pop fly into foul territory along the first-base line. Nick Swisher retreated as if to make the catch. Jason Kipnis, behind the play, also could have reached the ball. Instead, it fell to the ground for an error on Swisher that gave Rendon another chance.
“I think Swish thought he was under it, and it was too late when he realized he wasn’t, and it landed in no-man’s land,” manager Terry Francona said. “It gave the team another opportunity. It’s a heartbreaker, but that’s what happens when you take all the potential outs.”
Pestano put the blame directly on himself.
“It wasn’t the dropped ball, it was the pitch I threw,” he said. “I think it was belt high, right down the middle. It was not a very good pitch.”
Pestano is beginning to look like he’s snake-bit.
“For me, everything that can go wrong will go wrong right now,” he said. “I can’t make the big pitch to get out of an inning. Things just aren’t falling for me.
“I don’t know any more I can do. I’m just not getting results. I have to go out and keep firing. You can’t sit here and cry and put on a pouty face.”
Kipnis said the problem was “miscommunication” and that neither player called for the ball.
“He thought I was going to take it, and I thought he was going to take it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, because Vinnie shouldn’t have had to throw another pitch.”
Swisher’s was one of three Tribe errors, the other two belonging to shortstop Mike Aviles. As it happened his blunders were harmless. He also was a big contributor to the offense and saved a run in the field.
Jordan Zimmerman came into the game with impeccable credentials: a record of 9-3, an ERA of 2.00 and 15 consecutive scoreless innings. What chance did the Tribe have?
Aviles executed the breakthrough by hitting his fifth home run of the season with one out in the third to put the first dent in the Nationals’ five-run advantage.
Following the pattern set by the visitors, Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds went deep consecutively with two out in the fourth. The Indians took the lead in the fifth on an RBI single by Swisher and Brantley’s two-run double. Aviles’ single started the rally.
For the game, Aviles doubled and singled, in addition to hitting a home run. He also saved a run in the sixth by throwing out Steve Lombardozzi on a tough play.
It’s not surprising that a pitcher who spent last year playing on an independent league team might need a few months to work on getting his edge back.
So Scott Kazmir has been up and down as a Tribe starter. Saturday night was banana-peel time for him. In his shortest start of the season, Kazmir gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in 2⅔ innings.
“It was just a poor outing, for the most part,” he said. “Giving up five runs, especially that early, put my team in a hole. You can’t do that, put them in that kind of spot. It’s unacceptable.”
With two out in the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Werth ripped back-to-back drives over the center-field wall after two were out.
Ian Desmond led off the second inning with a home run to left, but the Nationals would have given a lot if just one of Kazmir’s walks had been issued before a home run.
Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen kept the Nats in check for 4⅓ innings, but with two out in the eighth, Joe Smith gave up a home run to Chad Tracy to tie the score. It was Tracy’s eighth pinch-hit career homer and second this year.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.