ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Michael A. Taylor stood near his locker, his voice just over a whisper here Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m not big on drama,” said the Nationals’ soft-spoken, humble center fielder, as much an understatement as Florida has summer humidity.
Taylor struck out swinging with two outs and the bases loaded to end the game in the top of the ninth as the Nationals lost 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Washington had just three hits Tuesday after also being blanked 11-0 on two hits by the Rays in the first game of the short interleague series Monday night.
But it was how the Tuesday game ended that created some drama.
After striking out Taylor, Rays right-hander Sergio Romo pointed toward the outfielder as he headed back to the Nationals’ third-base dugout.
“I never heard him,” Taylor said.
It was only after Adam Eaton and some other Nationals teammates took exception to Romo’s gestures that Taylor realized the right-handed hurler had been taunting him.
There was some pushing between the teams on the field near the pitcher’s mound before each club headed to their dugouts and the clubhouses, with no punches thrown.
“We have to put it behind us,” Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper said. “There is nothing you can do about it now.”
Taylor said Romo must have been upset since Taylor stole a base with Romo on the mound in the sixth inning of a game at Nationals Park earlier this month. In that game, the Nationals were leading 6-2 going into the sixth inning June 6 and wound up winning 11-2.
“Sergio was a little upset we ran on him,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “If he gets mad he should get mad at me. Don’t show up our players. Don’t do that.”
Taylor pointed out the game is not over until the last out, noting the Rays’ offensive explosion in the second inning Monday.
“We lost the game (Tuesday),” Taylor said. “That is what upsets me.”
Romo was a member of the San Francisco Giants in 2014 when Harper hit two homers off Giants reliever Hunter Strickland in the playoffs. Last season, Strickland threw at Harper, leading to a brawl in San Francisco, though Romo was with the Dodgers in 2017.
“No disrespect to that team, no disrespect to their coaching staff, no disrespect to anybody on that team other than the person (Taylor) that I felt disrespected me (in Washington),” Romo said on Tuesday. “I don’t know him personally, I have nothing against him off the field. I’m just letting you know this game is very unforgiving. The way I was taught to play the game is that it governs itself. I just had to let him know that I didn’t like it.”
What started the issue with Taylor?
“Everybody knows what that was about, even guys on their side,” added Romo, generously listed at 5-foot-11. “Amongst all of that, I got told a couple of things by guys that I know very well on that team, and they know I’m not that type of person. I’m not going to start something over nothing. I’m the smallest guy out there to be honest. But I will defend my team. I will put myself out there for this squad, this team, for the guys that strap on those spikes every day. I’m here for them.”
Perhaps a bigger concern for the Nationals (41-37) is that they have lost five in a row on the road, nine of 13 overall and begin a four-game series on Thursday in Philadelphia. The Phillies are ahead of the third-place Nationals in the National League East and won two of three at Nationals Park this past weekend.
The Nationals did not score in 18 innings at indoor Tropicana Field as Rays starters Blake Snell on Monday and Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday shut down a team that has won the past two division titles.
“We ran into two guys who threw the ball pretty dang well,” Harper said. “We have to get past this and off a good off day tomorrow.”
Eovaldi entered the game with a 5.30 ERA against the Nationals and had given up 12 runs in his last three starts this month. “He had good stuff, good cutter, good fastball,” Taylor said.
The Nationals wasted another strong outing from Max Scherzer (10-4), who gave up just four hits and one run in seven innings with only four strikeouts. His ERA fell to 2.04 but he has not won his last four starts.
The Nationals have been blanked in three of his last four starts.
“You can’t let it affect you,” Scherzer said. “You can’t get emotional.”
The Nationals certainly got emotional at the end of the game Tuesday. Even if it involved the most reserved of any Washington player in Taylor.
Martinez said he knows Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash.
“He will take care of that,” Martinez said, in regards to Romo.
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