The Washington Nationals received a strong start from their ace, but couldn’t tack on any insurance runs, blew a one-run save in the ninth, then blew the game in the tenth, as the resilient San Francisco Giants beat the Nats 4-2 in the tenth inning on the strength of a two-run homer by Pablo Sandoval, off just-recalled Yunesky Maya, that still might not have landed.
The Nats (23-23) got all their offense in the very first inning. Denard Span singled leading off the inning and Bryce Harper, hitting second for the first time this season, sacrificed Span to second. Ryan Zimmerman delivered with the runner in scoring position, ripping a double to center to score Span. After Adam LaRoche flew out to right, Ian Desmond came through, doubling to right field to plate Zimmerman.
Strasburg needed 31 pitches to get through the first inning, but he escaped unscathed, leaving the bases loaded. Strasburg was not as fortunate in the second inning. Gregor Blanco led off with a single to right field. After a fly out and sacrifice by Matt Cain, Angel Pagan singled to center, which scored Blanco from second base.
Strasburg gave up four hits and two walks in the first two innings, and the Nats looked to be in trouble, especially considering manager Davey Johnson was forced to use all three of his “long-men” in Monday night’s 8-0 loss to the Giants. But Strasburg settled down impressively after the second inning, and he cruised through the five next innings, facing just one batter over the minimum.
All told, Strasburg (2-5, 2.66) went seven innings and allowed one earned run on five hits and three walks, striking out seven. He threw 108 pitches, 62 of which were strikes.
The Nats missed several opportunities to extend their lead, but couldn’t come through in the clutch. They loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but Kurt Suzuki grounded into a force and Strasburg struck out swinging on three pitches. In the eighth, they had first-and-third with one out, but LaRoche struck out and Desmond grounded to the pitcher to end the threat.
Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth and handed things over to closer Rafael Soriano. Buster Poset led off with a comebacker, but Soriano couldn’t field it and was safe at first. Andres Torres pinch-ran for the catcher, and Soriano got the next two batters on fly balls. With two down, slap-hitting outfielder Gregor Blanco drove a ball to the right field wall. It looked like Harper might have had a play on the ball, but he tread gingerly as he approached the wall, no doubt still thinking about the collision he had in Los Angeles.
The ball carried over Harper’s head and off the wall in right. The run scored easily and Blanco ended up at third base with a game-tying triple. It was the third blown save of the season for Soriano, all coming on the road.
After the Nats went 1-2-3 in the top of the tenth, Davey Johnson called upon Yunesky Maya, just called up from Triple-A Syracuse (where he had a 5.07 ERA in eight starts) to pitch the tenth, instead of Drew Storen, presumably so Storen could be available for a save opportunity later. There would be no later, as Maya allowed a one-out single to Marco Scutaro, then grooved a batting practice fastball to Pablo Sandoval, who crushed it half-way up the large grandstand in center field to give the Giants their league-leading sixth walk-off win of the season.
THE GOOD: Once he got past the second inning, Strasburg was dominant. If they can ever figure out why he’s been struggling in the early innings…
THE BAD: Blame Soriano or Maya all you want — and they certainly deserve their share of the blame – but the Nats lost this one in the fifth and eighth innings, when twice they had a runner at third with one out and failed to score the run.
Honorable mention: the Nats offense is so bad lately, Bryce Harper felt compelled to sacrifice bunt…twice. Disgraceful.
THE UGLY: There’s no way to sugar coat this: Yunesky Maya does not have Major League caliber talent and has no business on a big league roster.
THE STATS: 5 hits, 3 BBs, 9 Ks. 2-for-8 with RISP, 6 LOB. No errors, 2 DPs.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 3:45 pm ET against the Giants to avoid the sweep. Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.01) faces Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 3.09).