WASHINGTON — The formula was there, clearly directed and executed with aplomb, even with few opportunities to do so. When the Nationals reached base, as they did in the seventh inning against Orioles ace Corbin Burnes, they’d run.

It wasn’t necessarily unique to Tuesday night. Washington entered with the most steals in Major League Baseball. But even knowing that, Burnes and the Orioles could do little in slowing down the base swiping, which led to Eddie Rosario’s all-important steal in the seventh.

His single had just scored the Nationals’ second run of the night. Then he took second base with a feet-first slide, even though his primary lead of about 12 feet ranks in the bottom 43% of primary leads across baseball. He didn’t need anything longer. The battery of Burnes and catcher Adley Rutschman hadn’t thrown anyone out.

Then came the final blow for Burnes: Trey Lipscomb slapped a single to right field and Rosario scored, ending Baltimore’s streak of seven straight games having allowed two runs or fewer. By running just about every time they reached base — which was not often — the Nationals maximized their run-scoring potential and downed the Orioles, 3-0.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“That’s a really, really aggressive team, and if they get a chance, they’re going to be aggressive,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They took advantage of us tonight.”

Anything other than perfection for Burnes might not have been enough with the way right-hander Trevor Williams and a stable of relievers performed against an Orioles (23-12) lineup that suddenly went cold. Rutschman singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 of his last 17 games. Then Jordan Westburg’s fifth-inning single was Baltimore’s next base hit.

The frustration built and eventually spilled over into ninth-inning ejections for Ryan O’Hearn and Hyde, who argued umpire Alex Tosi’s called third strike against O’Hearn.

O’Hearn’s issues with Tosi’s strike zone with the first pitch he saw. The designated hitter pointed out a strike call to Colton Cowser on a full count that rankled him, too. Seeing what he believed to be wrong calls led O’Hearn to confront Tosi after his final plate appearance.

“I got pissed off and decided to say something about it. First career ejection; I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is,” O’Hearn said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The accumulation of irritation throughout the game led to O’Hearn’s words, but the final strike caught him especially off guard. The first pitch of the at-bat was called for a ball despite appearing within the zone, and the final pitch — which was farther off the plate — was called a strike.

When asked about a potential solution, O’Hearn said the challenge system used in the minor leagues could be interesting rather than going to a fully automatic strike-ball decision system.

“We do this every day, so we have a good understanding of what the strike zone is,” O’Hearn said. “A lot of hitters know when they’re getting screwed, so it’d be cool to be able to challenge it.”

Up until that seventh inning, Burnes had shined. And while he walked three, each of those free passes came with two outs.

The Nationals (18-17) managed to scratch across a second-inning run when Jesse Winker singled and — guess what? — stole second base. Joey Meneses drove him in with a single to end the Orioles’ streak of 22 scoreless innings for starting pitchers.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Manager Brandon Hyde turned the game over to the bullpen after the Nationals tacked on two more in the seventh.

It was hardly much of a trip-up for Burnes, whose ERA rose only slightly to 2.83 after his 6 1/3 innings. But it’s not the first time teams have scampered against him. In seven other starts, players have stolen nine bases while getting caught twice.

The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals each swiped three bags in games against Burnes earlier in the year, and the Nationals did so again Tuesday. Part of the issue could be rules that limit the number of pick-off attempts and slightly larger bases that encourage more stealing. But Burnes didn’t use those as excuses.

“For me, that’s kind of secondary as far as what I’m trying to do,” Burnes said. “I’ve got to be able to sync up and command the zone and throw strikes. If I’m going to walk guys and make bad pitches, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing holding runners.”

The running doesn’t often impact him, though. Burnes has the mettle to navigate around traffic behind him. But with an offense that managed three hits, struck out 12 times and was shutout for just the second time this year, Burnes’ room for error was miniscule.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The running game, then, was magnified. And the Nationals stole their way to a win.


Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

More From The Banner