The Washington Nationals took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning with previously unpierced Tyler Clippard on the hill to try to close his 15th save in as many tries since taking over the closer’s role early in the season. Unfortunately, Clippard couldn’t get the job done against the New York Mets, but his teammates bailed him out, and Michael Gonzalez after him, by scoring in both the bottom of the ninth and tenth innings — each time after the Mets had taken the lead — to eventually overcome the visitors and walk off with a 5-4 win, before 26,342.
Coupled with a loss by the Atlanta Braves, the Nats (52-36) increased their lead in the N.L. East to 3 1/2 games.
The Nats trailed 4-3 entering the tenth after the Mets Josh Thole doubled home Daniel Murphy in the top of the inning off Gonzalez. Rookie catcher Jhonatan Solano lead off with a single and took second on Steve Lombardozzi’s sacrifice bunt. Bryce Harper took lefty Tim Byrdak’s first pitch, a slider off the plate, for ball one. Byrdak tried to hit the same spot with the same pitch but got too much of the plate, and Harper crushed it over right fielder Scott Hairston’s head. Harper hustled out of the box thinking triple all the way, and when the ball got away from third baseman David Wright on the relay throw, Harper was safe at third with a game-tying RBI.
The Mets walked both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond to set up the force play at every base. For a moment, it looked like a genius strategy as Adam LaRoche grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Harper forced at home.
But Mets manager then called upon reliever Pedro Beato to replace Byrdak. Beato got ahead of Tyler Moore 0-2, but then spiked a slider in the dirt that Thole could not handle, and Zimmerman scooted home with the winning run.
It was the second time in as many innings the Nats were forced to make a comeback attempt. Clippard entered a 2-0 game, courtesy of Ross Detwiler’s finest performance of the season — seven innings of five-hit, no-walk shutout ball. But Clippard gave up back-to-back singles to Thole and Wright to start the inning, then after strikeout out Hairston he left a change-up out over the plate and pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin delivered it to the first row of seats in right center, where a fan made contact with the ball over the fence before fumbling it off the wall and back into play.
After review, the umpires upheld the original call of home run, and the Mets had a 3-2 lead, sucking the life out of Nats Park.
But the semi-controversial home run only set up the Nats first comeback of the night. Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche hit back-to-back singles with one out and after a Moore strikeout on three pitches, Danny Espinosa came through. On a 2-2 count, in an at bat where he saw five straight curveballs, reliever Bobby Parnell challenged Espinosa with a 99-MPH fastball. Espinosa ripped it into center field to plate pinch-runner Desmond to tie the score, setting up the exciting — and ultimately victorious scene in the tenth inning.
THE GOOD: Ross Detwiler. In yet another example of why wins and losses is a bad way to judge starting pitchers, Detwiler dominated the Mets last night but did not factor in the decision. No runs, five hits, no walks, four Ks.
THE BAD: Michael Gonzalez. Sure, Clippard gave up the three-run home run, but Gonzalez allowed the Mets to score in the tenth after the Nats dramatically tied the game back up. After such a good start with the Nats, Gonzalez has now been scored on in back-to-back late inning appearances.
THE UGLY: Jesus Flores. Dude is really struggling. 0-for-4 runs his slump to 4-for-32 in his last 10 games. His frustration spilled out in the bottom of the ninth. After striking out on three pitches with two runners on for the third out of the inning, he slammed his bat in the left-handed batter’s box, splintering the bat into pieces.
THE STATS: 9 hits, 3 BBs, 10 Ks. 3-for-7 with RISP, 7 LOB, 0 GIDP. No errors, 2 DPs.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 pm against the Mets. Jordan Zimmermann (6-6, 2.48) hosts Chris Young (2-3, 4.28).
NATS NOTES: Closer Drew Storen, on a rehab assignment with Low-A Potomac, struck out two batters in pitching a perfect inning in the P-Nats 7-6 win in ten innings. Storen pitched in the seventh inning and threw ten of his eleven pitches for strikes.