Six-run sixth inning dooms the Nationals to a series loss in Oakland

Six-run sixth inning dooms the Nationals to a series loss in Oakland

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

OAKLAND, Calif. — At the time, with one out in the sixth inning Sunday afternoon, JJ Bleday’s double off Washington Nationals starter Trevor Williams seemed inconsequential. It gave the Oakland Athletics runners at second and third base, but the Nationals were up by five and Williams had been in control the whole way.

When Derek Law replaced Williams and struck out Seth Brown, Bleday’s hit seemed all for naught. But the Athletics kept chipping away. Every at-bat quickly became more meaningful.

In a flash, Bleday was in the on-deck circle, waiting to hit again. Oakland batted around in its six-run sixth inning, handing the Nationals a 7-6 defeat by stealing a game that was in Washington’s grasp.

“That’s the most frustrating thing,” Law said, “coming in a 6-1 game and [I] should be able to keep it 6-1 and not make it a tough spot for anybody. Instead, I kind of made it harder on everybody else, which is tough to live with when your team is playing really well.”

After striking out Brown, Law faced four more batters. The results: RBI singles by Tyler Nevin and Lawrence Butler, a wild pitch that allowed Nevin to score, then walks to Shea Langeliers and Ryan Noda to load the bases. “Obviously you don’t see it playing out like that,” Law said.

The Nationals, still leading 6-4, were without relievers Hunter Harvey and Robert Garcia. And Manager Dave Martinez wanted to stay away from Jordan Weems, who ultimately replaced Law and walked Darell Hernaiz to make it a one-run game. Then Abraham Toro hit a blooper that left fielder Jesse Winker dived for. It briefly appeared he snared the ball before it hit the ground, but he didn’t. As he threw in to second base, the Athletics’ go-ahead run crossed the plate.

The Nationals (6-9) continue their road trip Monday night in Los Angeles, where they will take on World Series contenders in the powerhouse Dodgers. They will do so having lost an opportunity for a series win — or even a sweep — against the low-budget Athletics (7-9), who are expected to be one of the majors’ worst teams.

Until the bottom of the sixth, everything went according to plan. The Nationals had scored six runs, which felt like a breakout considering they had scored five over their previous three games.

“It’s funny how this game is,” Martinez said. “We’re worried about offense. We go out there and score six runs, and then we can’t finish the game.”

Martinez shuffled his order before this one. His most notable move was dropping right fielder Lane Thomas to fifth. Thomas had hit second in every game this year except for the three that CJ Abrams missed with a bruised pinkie. Sunday’s game was the lowest Thomas had hit in the batting order since May 5 of last season. But Thomas hits lefties well, so this matchup with the Athletics’ Alex Wood gave him a chance to get back on track after going 1 for 17 in his previous four games.

The Nationals grabbed the lead in the third inning when Joey Meneses’s groundout brought home Jacob Young. Thomas stepped up with two outs, singling to score Abrams and extend the Nationals’ lead to 2-0. In the fourth, Young doubled to drive in Riley Adams and make it 3-0.

In the fifth, Thomas worked a nine-pitch at-bat against Wood and sent his final delivery into the seats in left-center. And in the sixth, after Meneses’s RBI single, Thomas drove him in for a 6-1 lead. Thomas finished 3 for 5, raising his batting average from .179 to .213.

The Nationals entered Sunday averaging 3.57 runs; only five teams had averaged less. Williams has provided the kind of pitching that has been necessary to keep the Nationals afloat, proving to be a bright spot as the fifth member of the rotation. On Sunday, he was particularly effective in the bottom of the zone, where he got all seven of his strikeouts — three looking and four swinging.

All the Athletics managed before the sixth inning was an RBI single by Langeliers. But Oakland came alive after Williams exited. His outing was much better than his final stat line — three runs and six hits over 5⅓ innings — indicated, but his walk of Toro and Bleday’s double loomed large.

“I put us in a battle by walking the leadoff guy in the sixth inning,” Williams said. “That’s never good. … I trust the guys in the bullpen. We’re going to pick each other up all season. I’m sure those guys are itching to get back out there and prove it to themselves or prove it to us again that we do trust them.”

Note: Left-hander Mitchell Parker is slated to make his major league debut Monday night against the Dodgers. Parker, a 24-year-old who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, made one start this season for Class AAA Rochester, allowing an unearned run in four innings April 6. Reliever Amos Willingham was optioned to Rochester after Sunday’s loss.

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