“He couldn’t command anything tonight,” Flores said. “He was pretty wild. It’s not the first time. He’s got to keep working on it.”
Said Johnson: “He walked the guys he should have got out.”
He had loaded the bases for Votto, who had drilled two homers off of starter Edwin Jackson and later added a double off the right field wall. “He did what he gets paid a lot of money to do,” Jackson said.
With the count 1-1 on Votto, Rodriguez bounced a 55-foot curveball that, had it skipped past Flores, would have brought home the tying run. Flores blocked it. Votto hit a missile foul on the next pitch. On 2-2, Flores called for an inside fastball.
“That was the best pitch in that situation,” Flores said. “Because he couldn’t command anything else.”
Rodriguez threw the fastball, 96 mph, but down the middle and up rather than inside. Votto unleashed his compact swing, and the ball zoomed on to the grassy berm behind the center field wall. Fireworks shot off, and the Reds dogpiled at home plate. A long flight awaited the Nationals.
“It’s very frustrating,” Rodriguez said. “I have a good game last night, and then come in here tonight, and I couldn’t do my job.”
The Nationals had control all game as their offense continued its recent brush with productivity, belting 16 hits and drawing six walks. They still stranded 14 runners, but they led, 6-3, when Votto drilled a double off Sean Burnett that put runners on second and third with one out.
Burnett responded by striking out Brandon Phillips, swinging at a slider that nearly bounced on the plate. He seemingly extricated himself when Jay Bruce hit a high flyball to right field.
“You assume a popup is an out,” Burnett said.
Bryce Harper, who received 10 stitches above his left eye after his infamous bat-slamming incident Friday night, jogged in to catch the ball. Once the ball soared higher than the seats, Harper could not find it in the wet gloom. He stuck out his arms and ran forward. The ball went over his head and dropped 20 feet behind him.
“I had no clue,” Harper said. “I had no idea. It [stinks] that it happened. There was nothing I could do about it.”
The ball landed close to the warning track as he stood in intermediate right field. Center fielder Rick Ankiel tracked the ball down, and when he flung the ball back to the infield the Nationals led only by one run.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Burnett said. “It’s just bad luck.”
The Nationals handed their one-run lead to Rodriguez. The implosion that followed ended a long, bad day. In the team’s locker room, clubbies scraped mud off cleats. Ramos hobbled to the bus on crutches, and bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo rolled his suitcase for him.
“All losses are tough,” Johnson said. “That one especially.”