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Curious Decision Contributes to Cards’ 5-2 Loss to Nats

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Shildt takes full responsibility

MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

John Gant took the mound for the Cards and served up a first-pitch outside sinker to Victor Robles, who smacked it into the gap in right-center and off of the base of the wall for a triple to lead off the game. Trea Turner chopped a low 1-2 sinker to Arenado at 3rd down the line. He looked Robles back to 3rd and quickly fired to 1st to nip Turner. Juan Soto lined a first-pitch hanging curve to right for a base hit to score Robles and give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Josh Bell grounded a high-and-outside 1-0 change to the right side into the shift, for your basic inning-ending 6-5-3 double play. Righty Erick Fedde took the hill for the Nats. On the 8th pitch of the plate appearance, Tommy Edman grounded an outside 2-2 change to Turner, who was playing opposite the shift in the shortstop position, and threw Edman out by a step. Paul Goldschmidt flied a low-and-in 1-0 fastball to the track in left. Nolan Arenado struck out looking at a 2-2 backdoor inside curve to end the inning.

Gant retired the Nats in order on 9 pitches in the top of the 2nd. Kyle Schwarber grounded a 1-0 outside change into the shift on the right side for DeJong Starlin Castro sharply grounded a low 2-0 sinker through the mound that was headed up the middle over the bag, but Carpenter happened to be positioned right there and threw to first for the out. Josh Harrison hit a 1-2 outside sinker for a soft liner to right to end the inning. Fedde returned the favor by striking out the side. He got Yadier Molina swinging at a sharp 2-2 outside cutter, Dylan Carlson chasing a 2-2 96 mph outside sinker, and Paul DeJong chasing an elevated 2-2 sinker.

Yan Gomes ripped a down-the-middle first-pitch sinker for a grounded base hit up the middle to start the top of the 3rd. The pitcher Fedde was there to sacrifice, but Gant walked him on 5 pitches instead. Robles was up to bunt as well, but he whiffed on 2 attempts and ended up striking out looking at a 2-2 low-and-away sinker. Turner struck out swinging at a nasty low-and-in 1-2 change. After Soto walked on 5 pitches to load the bases, Gant got out of the jam by striking out Bell swinging at a high sinker.

To lead off the bottom of the 3rd, Carpenter decided to bunt a 3-1 outside sinker to the left side where there were no fielders. The pitcher Fedde raced to his right from the mound to get the ball, barehanded it, but threw low and wide. Carpenter would probably have beat the throw anyway, and the scorer called it Carpenter’s first base hit of the season. After Williams flied a first-pitch outside fastball to left, Gant sacrificed Carpenter to 2nd. With 2 outs, Edman ripped a low-and-away 1-1 change for a sharp grounder through the right side to beat the shift for a base hit to score Carpenter and tie the game 1-1.

Edman got a good jump and stole second on the 2-2 pitch with no throw, but to no avail, as Goldschmidt grounded a 3-2 sinker to 2nd to end the inning.

Gant made quick work of the Nats in the top of the 4th on 9 pitches again. Schwarber chased a low sinker and flied it to shallow center. Castro flied an inside 1-0 change to right. Harrison chased a 3-1 up-and-in sinker and flied out to shallow center. Arenado chased an 0-2 cutter that was about a foot outside to lead off the bottom of the 4th. Molina flied a high-and-outside 2-1 cutter to deep right. Carlson popped a 3-2 down-the-middle cutter foul for Schwarber in left to end the inning.

Gomes led off the top of the 5th by tomahawking an 0-2 high-and-outside sinker to right for a base hit. Again, Fedde was up to sacrifice. This time, he bunted the ball to Gant on the right side of the mound. The ball went through Gant’s legs. Gant got turned around, got the ball, spun and fired to first. The ball hit Fedde in the backside and got away. The home plate umpire called Fedde out for batter interference for a violation of Official Rule 5.09(a)(11). This was the Trea Turner play that took place in Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. It was wrong then, and it was wrong this time too. Here’s the rule, which says a batter is out when:

In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw, at first base, in which case the ball is dead...

You’re familiar with the double line that represents a running lane down first base. The runner is not required to run in that line. It is true that by not running in it, he opens himself up to the umpire’s judgment that he was interfering with the throw. Interference in that context is usually considered to mean that he deviates from his path to block the ball. But Fedde ran in a straight line from his initial starting position. Carpenter was set up in fair territory to make the catch, and Gant’s throw to the bag just sailed and hit Fedde in the backside. He didn’t do anything to interfere, other than be where he was, which the rules state is not a violation.

In any case, Fedde was out, and we have to go all the way to Rule 6.01(a)(11) to figure out why Gomes was forced to return to first base. In some other dead ball situations, runners are allowed to advance, but this rule specifically says first, that if the batter-runner is out for interference, the runners are supposed to be returned to the last base they legally occupied, in the judgment of the umpire, at the time of the interference. Gomes had already reached second base when the ball hit Fedde. But the next paragraph of the rule goes on to state that if the batter-runner has not yet reached first base, all runners must return to the base they occupied at the time of the pitch. Get all that? At the end of all of that, Turner grounded a low-and-in 3-2 change to short to end the inning.

DeJong flied an outside 1-2 cutter to shallow right to lead off the bottom of the 5th. Carpenter drew a 3-2 walk after being behind in the count 0-2. Williams walked on 4 pitches. At this point, Shildt elected not to use his bench, and instead, left Gant, who had thrown 72 pitches up to this point, in the game to sacrifice the runners to 2nd and 3rd. With the order coming up for the 3rd time, the Nats brought in righty Kyle Finnegan to pitch. Edman quickly got behind 0-2 and grounded an outside 1-2 sinker to 2nd to strand the runners.

Shildt decided to leave Gant in the game to face the heart of the order a 3rd time through. Soto lined an inside 2-2 fastball to right-center for a base hit to lead off the top of the 6th. Bell took an extremely close 3-2 change that looked like it clipped the bottom edge of the zone and walked. Schwarber lined a 1-0 high-and-outside sinker to right-center for a base hit. Soto scored to give the Nats a 2-1 lead, Bell moved to 3rd and despite the fact that Carlson cut the ball off nicely, Schwarber still made it to 2nd with a double.

That was it for Gant, and Shildt brought in Giovanny Gallegos to pitch to Castro. Castro hit a first-pitch inside fastball foul to right field near the side wall. Edman raced over and made the catch, but his throw home was not anywhere near in time to stop Bell from scoring on the Sac Fly, and the Nats took a 3-1 lead, with Schwarber moving to 3rd.

The Nats put the squeeze play on, but Harrison popped the bunt up to Arenado near the 3rd base line for the 2nd out. Gomes flied a 1-1 low-and-in slider to shallow left to end the inning. Goldschmidt flied an inside 0-1 sinker to center to lead off the bottom of the 6th. Finnegan blew Arenado away with an inside 0-2 fastball. Molina then bombed an outside 2-2 96 mph sinker over the wall in the deep part of right-center for a solo shot to cut the Nats’ lead to 3-2.

Carlson struck out swinging at a 1-2 high-and-outside fastball to end the inning.

Lefty Tyler Anderson pinch hit for the pitcher Finnegan to start the top of the 7th, and skied a high 1-0 fastball just over the bullpen wall in right-center for a solo homer to extend the Nats’ lead to 4-2.

Robles popped an 0-1 slider to Goldschmidt by the Cards’ dugout. Turner grounded a low-and-in 1-1 fastball to 3rd and Soto struck out looking at a very close 2-2 low-and-away fastball to end the inning. Righty Tanner Rainey came out to pitch the top of the 7th and served up a first-pitch down-the-middle fastball to DeJong, who lined it to center for a leadoff base hit. That snapped a streak where DeJong had gone hitless in his previous 30 plate appearances, with only 4 walks and a hit-by-pitch. After Carpenter flied a 2-1 low-and-away fastball to medium left, Williams ripped a 1-0 middle-away fastball to left-center for a base hit to move DeJong to 2nd. Alas, the Cards could not take advantage. John Nogowski pinch hit for Gallegos and flied a first-pitch hanging slider to shallow right for the 2nd out. Edman got behind in the count early and chased an 0-2 slider in the dirt to end the threat.

Andrew Miller came out to pitch the top of the 8th for the Cards. Bell drew a 3-2 walk, with Miller throwing the last pitch to the backstop. Schwarber sharply grounded a first-pitch hanging slider through the right side for a base hit to move Bell to 3rd. Castro poked a low-and-away 1-2 slider on the ground through the hole into left for a base hit. Bell scored to give the Nats a 5-2 lead and Schwarber advanced to 2nd.

Harrison grounded a 1-1 hanging slider through the hole for another base hit to left, but the ball was hit too softly to send the runner. With the bases now loaded with nobody out, Shildt brought out Ryan Helsley. The broadcast crew said this was the first time in 577 career appearances where Miller had faced at least 4 batters and failed to record an out. Helsley would get out of this jam with a little help from his defense. Gomes struck out offering at an 0-2 cutter in the dirt. Ryan Zimmerman pinch hit for the pitcher Rainey and flied a 2-2 high 97 mph fastball to shallow center. Schwarber decided to test Carlson’s arm and raced for home, but Dylan threw the ball on a rope to Molina on the fly and nailed Schwarber at the plate to end the inning on a double play.

Righty Daniel Hudson came out for the Nats in the bottom of the 8th. Goldschmidt gave an outside 2-2 fastball a ride to deep right, but it stalled for Soto at the wall. Arenado squibbed a low-and-away 2-0 fastball back to the mound. Molina chased a 1-2 seamer almost at head level and struck out to end the inning.

Helsley was behind Robles in the count 3-0, but came back to strike him out offering at a 3-2 slider low-and-away and out of the zone to start the top of the 9th. Turner struck out looking at a 3-2 cutter/slider that barely clipped the bottom of the zone. Soto grounded a low-and-in 99 mph fastball up the middle for a 2-out base hit, and Bell moved him to 2nd with a lined base hit to center on a first-pitch low fastball. Shildt brought out Tyler Webb for the 3rd day in a row, this time to face Schwarber, and he struck him out swinging at an up-and-in 90 mph fastball to end the inning. Lefty Brand Hand came out to close things out for the Nats. Carlson slowly rolled an inside 1-1 slider to short. DeJong struck out looking at an outside 2-2 slider that the umpire called a strike, but looked like it was a few inches outside. Lane Thomas pinch hit for Carpenter and poked an inside 2-2 fastball through the right side for a softly lined base hit. If the Nats had been in a normal defense, the second baseman probably would have had it. Austin Dean pinch hit for Williams and drew a 3-2 walk laying off of some tough sliders low-and-away. Quite frankly, 3 out of the 4 balls the umpire called were strikes. Andrew Knizner pinch hit for Webb, but struck out swinging at an elevated 1-2 fastball to end the game.

Gant (5 days rest) 5 IP (pitched to 3 batters in the 6th), 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO; Gallegos (3 days rest, top 6, nobody out, men on 2nd and 3rd, down 2-1) 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO, 1 HR, allowed 1 out of 2 inherited runners to score; Miller (1 day rest, top 8, down 4-2) 0 IP (pitched to 4 batters in the 8th) 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO; Helsley (1 day rest, top 8, nobody out, bases loaded, down 5-2) 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO; Webb (no rest, top 9, 2 out, men on 1st and 2nd, down 5-2) .1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO.

ODDS AND ENDS

In the post-game press conference, Shildt took full responsibility for the decision to leave Gant in the game to bunt in the bottom of the 5th and then to pitch in the top of the 6th. He said it wasn’t the best decision he made, and he didn’t feel like he put the club in the best position to win. He said the starters had not gone deep in games, Gant was pitching well, Gant had successfully sacrificed and Edman had come through in that identical situation earlier in the game. But he acknowledged that Cabrera was available to pitch to Bell and the lefties instead of Gant in that 6th inning...The Nationals’ preferred opening day roster is almost completely restored after all the COVID cases. Starter Jon Lester is the only player still on the COVID-19 Related IL. Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison and were all in the starting lineup and made their season debuts tonight...After dropping their last two games to the Pirates, the Cubs lost again tonight 6-3 to the Brewers. Starter Adbert Alzolay left the game with a 1-0 lead, 1 out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th, but reliever Andrew Chafin promptly gave up a bases-clearing double to Luis Urias and three follow-up runs after that. Brewers starter Freddy Peralta pitched 6 innings with 2 walks and 10 strikeouts...The Pirates snapped their two-game winning streak with a 6-2 loss to the Padres. They were actually ahead 1-0 in the 6th, when reliever and Rule 5 pick Luis Oviedo gave up 3 runs in the 6th and 2 runs in the 7th...Reds outfielder Jesse Winker caught a stomach bug, which led to his absence from the lineup for about a week and the emergence of the hot-hitting Tyler Naquin. He was pulled from the club’s Saturday game against the Diamondbacks with calf cramps and was out of the starting lineup again yesterday, but started tonight against the Giants and smacked a 2-run HR to lead the Reds to a 3-0 victory over the Giants. Between Wade Miley (5 innings), Tejay Antone (3.2 innings) and Lucas Sims (.1 innings), the staff only allowed 2 hits.