Dropped balls prove costly in a defeat by Brewers
It is the ultimate excuse used by a ballplayer who drops a fly ball: "I lost it in the sun."
But at Nationals Park this month, it's a refrain that has become all too common. Both center fielder Bryce Harper and right fielder Jayson Werth dropped pop-ups hit right to them as they struggled to track those balls hit into a bright, blue sky.
Both miscues led to runs for the Milwaukee Brewers in an eventual 6-2 loss Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, and the National League East title chase tightened even further with just 10 games remaining.
A three-run seventh inning helped the Brewers (79-73) break a 2-2 tie and at least stay even with the St. Louis Cardinals, who still are 2? games ahead in the race for the final NL wild-card spot. The Nats (92-60) saw their lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves trimmed to 4? games. Atlanta beat Philadelphia 2-1 on Sunday.
"You can't catch what you can't see," said Harper, who also dropped a fly ball in a Sept. 9 game against Miami at Nationals Park and almost lost a second ball Sunday in the fourth inning. "Nothing you can do about it. Sun monster got me."
Werth's drop in the seventh inning was more damaging. Milwaukee had already broken the 2-2 tie when Jonathan Lucroy reached on an infield single with the bases loaded. But on the next at-bat, Werth called off Harper in relatively shallow right-center. Even with sunglasses on, though, he could not see the ball at the last instant and pulled away. Aramis Ramirez scored to make it 4-2.
A groundout to short by Jean Segura -- what would have been the final out of the inning -- instead scored Corey Hart from third with an extra insurance run, and it was 5-2 Brewers. A pair of errors in the eighth inning by second baseman Steve Lombardozzi and Harper led to a Braun sacrifice fly.
Harper's drop came on the first at-bat of the fourth when he lost Braun's fly ball in deep center. A pair of one-out singles by Hart and Lucroy drove Braun home. Logan Schafer then doubled home Hart to make it 2-0 Milwaukee. Neither drop was ruled an error, but both proved costly.
"It's a tough sun, no doubt about it. Just one of those days, I guess," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "Harper's having so much trouble I was thinking about moving Werth over there. I guess it didn't matter."
The loss overshadowed a nice performance from starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, who has struggled with injuries since spring training. But in a spot start he managed four solid innings. Few of the eight hits Wang allowed were hard hit, and he didn't walk a batter before giving way to reliever Craig Stammen.
"It took me a while in the minor leagues to rehab and make adjustments -- almost three months," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "So it really means a lot and am really happy to pitch on the mound again here."