CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis' fielder's choice scored Drew Stubbs in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Indians a 2-1 victory over the Nationals at Progressive Field on Friday night. The Nationals are back at the .500 mark with a 33-33 record.
First baseman Adam LaRoche feels like the Nationals are 15 games under .500. A year ago, the Nationals were 39-27 after 66 games.
"I guess the good news is that we are at .500 as bad as we have played," LaRoche said. "Time runs out eventually. We just need to do what we are capable of doing."
With one out and runners on second and third in the ninth inning, left-hander Fernando Abad threw a 2-1 pitch to Kipnis, who hit a hard grounder to LaRoche, who fielded the ball with a diving stop and tried to throw out Stubbs at the plate. But Stubbs beat the throw and slid safely under the tag of Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki.
It looked as if Kipnis was running out of the baseline as he was running to first base. His foot was close to the infield grass, which seemed to prevent LaRoche from making a perfect throw to the plate. However, the Nationals didn't argue the play.
"I just threw at [Kipnis'] head. He is right on the line. He ducked, and we lost," LaRoche said. "Looking back, I guess he was in the grass a little bit. That happens quite a bit and it doesn't get called very much. It's not the first time I've had … plays like that. ... I can't blame him on that."
Kipnis was hoping that the ball he had hit went through for a base hit, and he hinted that he was in LaRoche's way of making a perfect throw.
"It actually lined up perfectly where, when I'm running down the line, I was kind of, not in his way a little bit, but maybe could hinder his throw a little bit. That ball was coming right at me, so I've got to actually kind of duck a little bit."
The Nationals entered the series opener with their offense looking like it was coming back to life, but it sputtered against the Indians.
The Nationals collected two hits and their lone run came against right-hander Justin Masterson in the top of the third inning, when he uncorked a wild pitch that scored Suzuki to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Later in the inning, the Nationals had runners on second and third with one out, but Ryan Zimmerman struck out and LaRoche grounded out to end the inning.
"We had the right guys up with runners in scoring position with less than two outs. We didn't put the ball in play. We have to get better than that," manager Davey Johnson said.
Masterson pitched seven innings, allowed the one run on two hits and struck out 10 batters. It helped that Masterson's sinker was at its best Friday.
"It's getting old," LaRoche said. "Give [Masterson] credit. He had good stuff, but still -- you have nine big league hitters in there. I think we can get more than a couple of hits. I don't know. There were a lot of pitches, chasing some pitches. I don't know the answer."
Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez was just as effective, pitching seven innings allowing one run on three hits, striking out eight batters and walking four. Gonzalez threw a career-high 127 pitches in the game.
The Indians were able to tie the score at 1 off Gonzalez in the fourth inning, when Ryan Raburn homered over the right-field fence. It was Raburn's eighth home run of the season, and his third career long ball off of Gonzalez.
Outside of the Raburn home run, the only time Gonzalez was in trouble was in the sixth inning. Gonzalez was able to get two quick outs in the sixth, but he suddenly couldn't find the strike zone. He walked the next three hitters -- Nick Swisher, Raburn and Carlos Santana -- to load the bases. But Mark Reynolds popped up to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi to end the threat.
"Everybody talks about [Gonzalez's] breaking ball, but he can beat you with his fastball up, and that's what he did tonight so often," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We had trouble from the belt up with his fastball. He's just got so much finish on it, and you have to respect the breaking ball, but he had extra, he has that little finish on his fastball that's really tough to catch up with."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.