David Hernandez picked up his first win of the season against… (AP photo )
WASHINGTON — The game was officially lost when the Washington Nationals scored four runs in the sixth inning Saturday, knocking out an ineffective Brad Bergesen, who couldn't hold three different Oriole leads, and then putting up two more runs with Mark Hendrickson on the mound.
But the groundwork for this loss was laid in the previous two days when Oriole starters couldn't get deep in the game, a pattern that Bergesen fell right into, and the bullpen was taxed to the extreme. With what he described as only a "3 ½-man" relief corps Saturday, Orioles manager Dave Trembley watched a three-run lead in the sixth inning turn into a grueling 7-6 loss before an announced 30,290 at rainy Nationals Park.
"We just came up short," said Trembley. "There are a couple other things maybe we could have done. We got some runs, we had the lead, we had the bottom of the lineup coming up in the sixth after we had just scored. All the momentum was on our side and we just didn't get it done."
In building a 6-3 lead, the Orioles got a two-run single, and a two-run homer by Ty Wigginton, and an inside-the-park, two-run homer by Adam Jones after Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan slammed his glove to the ground rather than going after the ball.
But with just 12 outs to get a series victory, Bergesen allowed the first three Nationals that he faced to reach in the sixth inning. Roger Bernadina's RBI triple made it a two-run game and then Alberto Gonzalez pulled the Nationals within one with a pinch-hit RBI single.
Hendrickson entered and after a sacrifice bunt by Morgan, he hit Cristian Guzman, allowed an infield single to Ryan Zimmerman and then a go-ahead, two-run single by Adam Dunn, who beat the infield shift with a hard grounder to right center-field.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Wigginton who now has 13 homers and 31 RBIs. "But at the same time -- and I think we've been saying this a lot this year -- it's baseball. You have to find a way to finish out that W. "
Bergesen, who gave up six earned runs on 11 hits and a walk as his ERA ballooned to 6.10, had already thrown 99 pitches before the decisive bottom of the sixth began, but the Orioles needed him to get deeper in the game to protect their beat-up bullpen.
"You're in a situation there where you have to go with who you think is your best guy," Trembley said. "The backend of your bullpen is pretty well beat up. You've got some guys who have been extended. You've got a guy who's not available, so you do what you think is the best thing, and for me Bergesen was my best option."
Had the Orioles been able to make a couple of key defensive plays in the inning, things could have been different. Right fielder Nick Markakis got a bad break on Adam Kennedy's leadoff single, and then couldn't come up with a diving catch. Shortstop Cesar Izturis also bobbled Zimmerman's generously-ruled infield single.
But the Orioles' biggest lament was not having a full bullpen at their disposal, a direct result of Brian Matusz pitching just 2 1/3 innings in Thursday's series finale loss to the Texas Rangers, and David Hernandez logging just 5 1/3 innings in the series opener here. Bergesen then lasted only five innings yesterday, meaning the bullpen has had to get 40 outs over the last three days.
Entering Saturday's game, Trembley knew he wouldn't have Koji Uehara available for a third consecutive game. Uehara is experiencing elbow pain and could go on the disabled list tomorrow. Jason Berken also wasn't available after he was needed to pitch 4 1/3 innings and throw 74 pitches on Thursday. Cla Meredith had pitched in three straight games so Trembley wanted to stay off him, and Matt Albers threw 35 pitches the previous night.
That essentially left Trembley with Hendrickson, closer Alfredo Simon and Will Ohman, who had pitched in five of the previous seven days and leads the American League with 23 appearances.
"I try to chew up as many innings as I can," said Bergesen, who now has given up nine earned runs on 21 hits and three walks in 11 2/3 innings in his last two starts. "I hate to put the added pressure on the bullpen. Those guys were going out there every single night so they were tired. So to have them pick up an extra inning on my behalf, I'm not too happy with that part."
Not even Jones was smiling after a game in which he became the first Oriole to hit an inside-the park homer since David Newhan did it on July 21, 2004 against the Boston Red Sox's Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park.
Jones hit a deep drive to center field that Morgan appeared to have a play on, but the ball popped out of his glove. Morgan obviously thought the ball had deflected over the wall and he angrily slammed his glove to the ground, while the ball rolled behind him. Left fielder Josh Willingham picked it up and hit the cutoff man, but Jones beat the throw home.
"Morgan missed the ball, and I saw it get away from him and I saw him mad," Jones said. "He threw his glove down, and I kept running."
Unfortunately, what could have become the highlight play of an uplifting victory because just a footnote in another brutal loss.