The Washington Nationals blew the biggest lead in a clinching game in MLB postseason history when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the NLDS on Friday night. The Nats gave up a 6-0 lead after three innings, and a 7-5 lead in the ninth. Though some may say it’s unfair to pin the loss on manager Davey Johnson in light of the team’s regular-season success — they led MLB with a 98-64 record — I can’t see it any other way.
The Nats were up 7-5 entering the 9th inning when reliever Drew Storen was brought in for the save. Storen, who underwent elbow surgery in April, was pitching at least an inning for the third day in a row for the first time all season (he had pitched three days in a row two other times in the season, but never an inning each time). He gave up a lead off double to Carlos Beltran on a laser off the wall. He got Matt Holliday to ground out on a breaking ball, and Allen Craig to strike out.
The Nats were an out away from the NLCS when Storen fell apart.
Storen had a 2-2 count on Yadier Molina before throwing two balls to walk the catcher. Then he went 1-2 on David Freese before throwing three straight balls to load the bases. At that point you figure he had lost his stuff and it was time to pull him, but Johnson gave him another shot to close the game.
Daniel Descalso swung at the first pitch and roped a ball that went off shortstop Ian Desmond’s glove for a two-run single to tie the game at 7. By then, Storen had given up two walks and two lasers out of the six batters he faced. He clearly didn’t have his stuff, and Johnson should have gone to the pen to bring in someone to get the last out of the inning to preserve the tie. But no, Johnson stubbornly stuck with Storen, who went 2-2 on Pete Kozma before allowing another line drive hit. Kozma’s two-run single made it 9-7 and gave the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish.
Let’s look at priorities for a second.
The same team that kept Stephen Strasburg out of the playoffs for protective reasons had no problems burning Storen for a third straight game despite his elbow surgery. And they didn’t have a problem leaving Storen in for 33 pitches.
Johnson also made a questionable decision to have starter Edwin Jackson pitch the 7th inning two days after he went five innings in Game 3. Jackson struggled through the inning, putting on three runners while allowing a run.
You could also argue that Johnson stuck with starter Gio Gonzalez too long. LBS contributor Rey thinks he should have been pulled after walking Beltran in the fifth.
But as I am so often reminded by my parents who were at the game, Johnson is the same manager who in 1999 left Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park in the game to surrender a record TWO grand slams to Fernando Tatis (also of the Cardinals) in the SAME INNING*. My dad frequently remarks that that is a record that will never be broken, because no manager would be dumb enough to leave his pitcher in long enough for that to be a possibility.
Knowing when to pull pitchers was never Davey Johnson’s strong suit. It cost the Nationals a chance at the NLCS this time.
*Johnson was ejected 3 batters before the second grand slam, but should have pulled Park by then.
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