August 12, 2020

Washington Nationals Game 21 Review: Cole pounded, but Nats complete miracle comeback


With Max Scherzer’s regular spot in the rotation skipped due to his bruised thumb, the Washington Nationals called upon No. 2 pitching prospect A.J. Cole to temporarily fill his spot through the rotation, hoping the player making his MLB debut could play stopper of a six-game losing streak.

It didn’t happen.

Cole was pounded, allowing nine runs — though just four were earned due to yet another error  — and the Nats were in a 9-1 hole after two innings.

But they still play nine. And the Nats used all of them. Dan Uggla’s three-run home run in top of the ninth off Atlanta Braves closer Jason Grilli completed a stunning comeback, and the Nats snapped the losing streak in the most incredible of ways, winning 13-12 in front of a small and incredulous crowd at Turner Field.

The Nats actually led in this one. Denard Span singled to lead the game off against Braves starter Julio Teheran and scored on Bryce Harper’s two-out RBI double.

The Braves then got two runs in the bottom of the inning and seven in the second. It was 4-1 in the second and Cole had a chance to limit the damage. He induced a ground ball to first, but on the relay, he dropped Ryan Zimmerman’s feed as Cole took his eyes off the ball to locate the bag. All hands were safe and two more runs scored on the play and it was 9-1 at the end of the frame.

Cole (L, 0-1), relying primarily on fastballs, allowed nine hits and a walk in his two innings pitched, and faced a whopping 17 batters to record six outs.

By starting Cole, the Nats hoped to avoid using Tanner Roark and diminish their bullpen. But after a calamitous two innings, manager Matt Williams couldn’t avoid turning to the 15-game winner from last season who is relegated to a mop-up role so far this season.

Roark did indeed take over in the third, but couldn’t really staunch the bleeding. He got through his first inning unscathed, but gave up a run in the fourth as the Braves hit parade continued.

The Nats made some noise in the fifth. Jayson Werth’s sacrifice fly drove in Span, but the big blow came later in the inning, when Jose Lobaton crushed a 1-1 slider to the stands in left center for a three-run shot to reduced the deficit to 10-6.

Span made it a three-run game in the sixth with his first home run of the season, a line drive to right. But Freddie Freeman singled and scored on A.J. Pierzynski’s double in the bottom to get that one back.

Washington cut it to one in the seventh. Harper and Lobaton walked, then with two outs, Uggla tripled both in, then scored on Reed Johnson’s pinch-hit double to make it 11-10.

The Braves got one back in the bottom against Blake Treinen. With one out, Andrelton Simmons drew a walk, went to third on Freeman’s single, and scored on Pierzynski’s single.

The only served to set up Uggla for the most dramatic of rallies.

HERO: Normally, this would go to Denard Span, who went 5 for 6 with four runs scored. But Uggla had the big blast against his former team, in the top of the ninth, to complete the ridiculous comeback. He was 3 for 5 on the night with five RBIs.

GOAT: Mike Rizzo. Knowing that it was just going to be one turn in the rotation, he put a guy making his MLB debut in a very difficult position starting a game, on the road, against a division opponent, trying to halt a six-game losing streak, especially when they have a 15-game winner in the bullpen. The Nats had to send down Rafael Martin to make room for Cole on the roster, further strapping the bullpen after Williams had to use Roark anyway, which was a very foreseeable possibility.

NATS NOTES: The eight-run comeback is the largest in Nats history. The previous largest was seven runs over the Yankees on June 17, 2006.

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:10 pm at Turner Field. Jordan Zimmermann (1-2, 5.23) faces LHP Alex Wood (1-0, 3.00).


About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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