May 14, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Some ballgames are loaded with twists and turns and enough key decisions to leave armchair managers second-guessing for days. And then there are ballgames like the one played last night at Chase Field, a 3-1 Diamondbacks win over the Nationals that was about as clear-cut as they get.
If you missed it, here’s the Cliff Notes game story: Stephen Strasburg pitched pretty well, but Bronson Arroyo pitched exceptionally well.
Given the way the two right-handers cruised through most of the evening, it felt like there weren’t many significant situations worth a second look. What few defining moments there were, though, were amplified. And so they deserve to be analyzed more in-depth, especially these three…
1. STRASBURG’S SACRIFICE BUNT IN THE TOP OF THE 5TH
The game was tied 1-1 when Tyler Moore sent a 1-out single to right, then advanced all the way to third on Kevin Frandsen’s well-placed bunt, with third baseman Martin Prado’s throw sailing wide for an error.
So that put runners on the corners with one out and the pitcher stepping to the plate. Not an ideal situation, by any stretch, but what happened next surely frustrated more than a few people: Strasburg dropped down a bunt, moving Frandsen up to second base but leaving Moore at third.
It was a waste of an out, one that at first glance appeared to be given up with no intention of trying to bring the lead runner home. As manager Matt Williams later explained to reporters in Phoenix, it was not a straight sacrifice bunt that he called, but rather a safety squeeze. Moore was free to try to score if he felt like he could make it. Problem was, Strasburg’s bunt was back to the mound, giving Moore no opportunity to come home.
Regardless, it still seemed like a wasted plate appearance, purposely giving up an out with only a slim chance of driving the lead runner in. Why not let Strasburg swing away? Obviously, the worst-case scenario would have been an inning-ending double play. But in his five big-league seasons, Strasburg has proven to be more-adept with the bat than the average pitcher. The odds of him getting a ball out of the infield and bringing the run home seemed greater than him perfectly placing a safety squeeze bunt.
Of course, the whole thing would’ve been moot had Denard Span followed with a 2-out, 2-run base hit. But Span struck out on three pitches, so the Nationals were left with nothing to show for the inning, a golden opportunity squandered.
2. GOLDSCHMIDT’S 2-RUN DOUBLE IN THE BOTTOM OF THE 5th
Strasburg didn’t make many mistakes during his 7-inning start, but one of his biggest mistakes proved his costliest. With two on and one out in the bottom of the fifth, he hung a 2-2 curveball to Paul Goldschmidt. And the Diamondbacks slugger did what you’re supposed to do with hanging curveballs: He crushed it to deep left-center.
By the time the Nationals got the ball back to the infield, two runs had scored and Goldschmidt had cruised into second base.
Little did anyone realize at the time that double would prove the difference in this game, but it certainly felt like a significant moment as it played out.
It was merely one mistake pitch by Strasburg, and every pitcher is entitled one mistake. But it came at a most-inopportune time, and it came against one of the league’s best hitters, who lived up to his reputation in that moment.
3. WERTH’S FLYOUT TO LEFT IN THE TOP OF THE 8TH
Speaking of mistake pitches, Arroyo’s 1-1 slider was his fattest pitch of the night. It spiraled up there, not breaking so much as it hung right over the heart of the plate to a guy who has crushed more than his fair share of mistake pitches over the years.
Jayson Werth, though, missed it this time. He got ever so slightly under the ball, lofting it to left field for a routine flyout that quashed the Nationals’ last-best hope of tying the game (or potentially taking the lead).
The Nats had two on and two out when Werth came up to bat, with the Diamondbacks forced to stick with the potentially fading Arroyo as their bullpen furiously scrambled to get somebody ready. This was their opportunity to produce yet another late-game rally and flip the script.
Werth didn’t miss it by much, but he knew he missed it. Upon making contact and watching the ball make its lazy path toward left field, he slammed his bat to the ground.
Good hitters know they may be lucky enough to get only one mistake pitch thrown their way on any given night. And when you get one, you can’t waste it. Werth came close to seizing the opportunity, but he just missed.
That felt like an appropriate description of this entire ballgame. With two pitchers in good form, each club was going to get only a couple of chances to deliver in key spots. The Diamondbacks did it. The Nationals did not.
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