Over the course of a 162-game season, they aren’t all going to be easy. Or pretty. But a win is a win, and with the Atlanta Braves already having secured victory a couple of hours earlier, the Washington Nationals knew they had to find a way in extra innings to win back that ballgame.
Fortunately, the Houston Astros helped. A lot.
What could only be described as a bad little league play in the top of the 11th inning allowed Roger Bernadina to carry home what would be the winning run, letting the Nats off the hook in a sloppy, disjointed mess with a 5-4 win, before what remained of a crowd announced at 13,843 — lowest in Minute Maid Park history.
Only a few hundred were left to witness the “Bad News Bears” finish to this one.
Bernadina, who entered as a defensive replacement with the Nats leading in the eighth inning, singled through the hole on the right side off reliever Wilton Lopez. Kurt Suzuki tried to give himself up, but the popped-up bunt landed between Lopez and first baseman Steve Pearce. Both players chased the ball — then collided – while third baseman Matt Downs leapfrogged the pile. Pearce recovered to field the ball, but the hurried throw sailed past second baseman Jose Altuve (all 5’5″ of him), covering at first, and into foul territory down the right field line.
Bernadina had to hold on the popped up bunt, so he didn’t get a good break off the bag. By the time right fielder Brian Bogusevic retrieved the ball, The Shark still had not reached third. But he ran through Bo Porter’s stop sign and headed for the plate. It would have been a close play, but Bogusevic’s throw from short right field was air-mailed and carried all the way to the backstop. Bernadina was safe and Suzuki settled in at third base when the dust settled.
One run on one bunt hit and two throwing errors. Just like the Nats drew it up.
All that was left was for Craig Stammen to complete his second inning of work unscathed, which he was able to do, and the Nats had their 66th win of the season and held on to their three-game lead over the Braves. Stammen (W, 5-1, 2.32) walked one and struck out one in two innings of relief.
Extra innings were required as Tyler Clippard suffered his fourth blown save of the season in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a run on a hit batter, a walk, and a run-scoring double by Houston’s All-Star, the diminutive Altuve.
There was all sorts of strangeness and weirdness in this game, which saw the Nats burn through seven relief pitchers and everyone on the bench save Jesus Flores, but at least they escaped it with a win. If not their dignity.
THE TAKEAWAY: All night long, but especially in the bullpen, the Nats pitched backwards, starting the Astros hitters off with breaking ball after breaking ball, as if they were facing the most powerful team in the league. Which they are not. Minute Maid Park is a joke of a park, with the left field “Crawford Boxes” jutting back into the field of play in left field just waiting to suck up routine fly balls as home runs. But the Nats game plan had their hurlers, normally fearless, pitching scared.
Drew Storen in the eighth, and Clippard in the ninth in particular, kept throwing sliders and changeup away to right-handed hitters like they were Alex Rodriguez. Storen walked his first two batters when he wouldn’t get close to the plate with the off-speed stuff. Clippard just looked all out of sorts after catching a spike and spinning off the mound attempting his first pitch. Hopefully they’ll revise the game plan overnight and attack Houston’s punch-and-judy attack the rest of the series.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Kurt Suzuki all had two hits apiece. Nats starter Edwin Jackson gave up two earned on two hits and two walks, striking out eight. He deserved a better fate than a no-decision.
THE BAD: Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with a K and a walk.
THE UGLY: I used two paragraphs to describe it above. The game-winning play was as ugly on a Major League field as it can get.
THE STATS: 14 hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks. 3-for-10 with RISP, 8 LOB, 2 GIDP. No errors or double plays.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 8:05 pm against the Astros. Ross Detwiler (6-4, 3.02) faces Jordan Lyles (2-8, 5.95).