The Washington Nationals were staring down their first real slump of the 2014 season, trailing the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 heading to the bottom of the ninth, having dropped the first two games of the series. As Matt Williams said after the game though, “That’s why we play 27 [outs]. That’s why we have to play every out.”
The Nats made a furious comeback, capped by Adam LaRoche’s RBI single, which plated Jayson Werth from second base to deliver the Nats an unexpected 5-4 win, before 22,504 at Nationals Park.
The comeback started with Jose Lobaton homering off Angels closer Ernesto Friere (0-2, 9.35). After pinch-hitter Zach Walters struck out, Denard Span snuck a ground ball up the middle for a single. Frieri walked Anthony Rendon on two close pitches, then Werth came to the plate.
The veteran, who seems to relish big ninth inning at bats, looked at three offerings — all outside the strike zone — then jumped on a 3-0 fastball, ripping it past the third base bag. The ball caromed off the jut in the left field fence and bounced into short left, where left fielder J.B. Shuck had to track it down. It took long enough for Rendon to scoot all the way home from first base with the tying run.
LaRoche then pounced on Friere’s next pitch, lining it over the shortstop to drive in Werth to start the celebration.
The ninth inning comeback made a winner of Drew Storen (2-0, 1.17), who gave up a run-scoring hit to Mike Trout in the top half of the inning.
The Nats struck first in what seemed like a different game. With one out in the second inning, Danny Espinosa bunted his way on and stole second base. A ground out by Lobabton moved him over to third, and Gio Gonzalez’ soft liner to left brought him home for the first run of the game.
Surprisingly, that single run didn’t stand up. Gonzalez cruised through five innings after a bit of a first inning scare. But he’d retired 11 in a row leading up to the sixth. Mike Trout drew a walk, and after ball one to Albert Pujols, pitching coach Steve McCatty came out to chat and Aaron Barrett started warming up. Pujols then smashed a double down the left field line that bounced off the jutting part of the fence in the same location Werth would later strike. Bryce Harper made a good play on the ball and his throw home was close, but Trout slid under the tag to tie the game.
Then, shockingly, after just 83 pitches, manager Matt Williams came out with the hook. Gonzalez finished with five innings pitch, two earned runs on four hits and three walks, with five strikeouts. After the game, Williams revealed Gonzalez experienced a bit of tightness in his shoulder in the cold weather, and the manager and player agreed that he should come out at that point.
Barrett was called upon, and after a ground out moved Pujols up a base, he scored on a single by Erick Aybar. Just like that, the Nats were trailing.
In the bottom half, Adam LaRoche beat the shift with a seeing-eye single. Harper came up an offered a bunt for strike one, then with two strikes inexplicable tried to bunt again, popping up foul for the out and slamming his bat in the batter box, showing his frustration.
The Angels added a run in the seventh. David Freese led off with a double off Barrett, went to third on a ground out to first, and scored on a wild pitch.
They weren’t done. In the ninth, Raul Ibanez scored from second on a single to left field by Trout. But all that did was set up the fireworks of the bottom half of the inning.
The Nats host the San Diego Padres in a four-game series starting Thursday at 7:05 pm. Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 3.94) hosts LHP Eric Stultz (1-2, 4.35).