Capps' first blown save leads to loss
Doumit's two homers go for naught in series opener at PNC Park
PITTSBURGH -- The game was eventually going to come. The law of averages said it has to. But for closer Matt Capps, knowing that a blown save was eventually inevitable wasn't about to provide any solace after the Pirates' 7-6 loss to the Nationals at PNC Park on Tuesday night.
"I let down a lot of people here today -- the 24 other guys in here wearing the uniform and everyone who was hoping and pulling for us to do as good as we can," said Capps, who allowed two runs on a ninth-inning home run to seal the Bucs' eventual fate. "And with the way things have been going, it sucks pretty bad."
And relatively speaking, things had been going pretty great.
Take for instance the two games that the Pirates rode into the game, a modest streak made more impressive by the fact that it was against the National League West-leading D-backs.
Then there was the first six innings of Tuesday's contests, where it looked like the Pirates would breeze to an easy win over a last-place club. Paul Maholm was dealing and an early three-run lead seemed more than suitable.
There was a late-inning rally and a career night for Ryan Doumit, who had helped build up that early lead with two homers and three RBIs on the way to his third career four-hit game.
However, a pesky Washington team would have none of it.
"They're a young team like us," Maholm said. "They're not going to quit."
That, they didn't.
In a game that saw the lead change hands three times in the final three innings, it would be Washington that did what no other team has done to Capps this season. Entering the game with 15 saves in 15 opportunities -- including five saves in June -- Capps quickly recorded two outs.
"I felt like I had my good stuff today," he later said.
But a two-out double by Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes prolonged the inning just long enough for center fielder Lastings Milledge to take Capps deep with a first-pitch fastball left belt high.
"I definitely don't second-guess the pitch," Capps said of the 92-mph fastball. "If I can go back and do it again, I'd probably throw the same pitch, but try and locate it a little better."
With that home run -- Washington's fifth of the game -- Capps' perfect string came to an abrupt end, as did the Pirates hopes of climbing within one game of .500 for the sixth time since being there on April 15.
It also erased yet another spirited comeback the offense had showcased an inning before.
"I don't think anyone expects him to be perfect all year long," manager John Russell said. "It's just unfortunate that it happened tonight after we got down, came back and were one out away from a win."
It ended with Capps, but the see-saw battle in the two innings that preceded his appearance proved to be just as dramatic.
Start back in the seventh, an inning the Pirates entered with a 4-1 lead that seemed extremely comfortable considering the way Maholm was throwing.
"He was throwing the ball great," Russell said. "He was in complete command of the game."
There was no questioning that. Take for instance his pitch counts in the first six innings: one 10-pitch inning, three nine-pitch frames and two 13-pitch innings. That totaled 63 pitches though six.
However, three seventh-inning swings changed all that.
"It's the weirdest thing," Maholm said afterward. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't know what happened. I don't know what changed."
What happened in the seventh were three solo homers by Washington, each one shaving a run off a lead until it eventually evaporated. Maholm, who had also given up a solo shot earlier in the game, then allowed two more base hits before Russell handed the ball over to reliever John Grabow.
Why not go to the bullpen before that third home run?
"It was his game," Russell said of Maholm. "Under normal circumstances later in the game, yeah, you might think about your bullpen, but we can't just keep taxing our bullpen every day."
And how Maholm could go from such efficiency to such a sudden turn of events was perplexing to watch and still as baffling to him afterward.
"That was by far the worst inning I've ever had," he said. "I can't explain it. I don't want to really try. It's sad because we were cruising and should have won the game easily. I put it on me. It shouldn't happen."
The game wasn't tied for long as Washington struck for one in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Ronnie Belliard. But as has become old habit by now, the Pirates played the comeback card soon after.
Jason Bay drew his 44th walk of the season to open the bottom of the eighth before Doumit stretched a line drive into the left-center field gap for a double. It was his fourth extra-base hit of the night after going 1-for-12 since coming off the disabled list Friday.
"We're very happy to have him back," Russell said of Doumit, who made himself unavailable for comment to the print media. "Now it looks like he's getting his swing back again."
Xavier Nady then drove in Bay with a subsequent single to tie the game before pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz gave the Pirates the lead back with a one-out sacrifice fly.
It ultimately, however, wouldn't be enough as Capps' blown save erased a 21-0 record for the Bucs when leading after six innings.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.