Would Davey Johnson have pulled Washington Nationals' closer Rafael Soriano off the mound after he struggled at the start of the ninth this afternoon? We'll never know. The Nats' 70-year-old skipper was tossed in the fifth by home plate umpire Mike Winters for arguing balls and strikes on Ian Desmond's behalf, so it was up to Randy Knorr, the bench coach who was pressed into duty by Johnson's absence, to make a decision.
Soriano, 33, and one of the Nationals' big offseason acquisitions (2 years/$28), entered the game in a non-save situation in the ninth with the Nats up 7-3 in the finale of their four-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the right-handed closer walked the first two batters he faced on 12 pitches and then surrendered an RBI double on an 0-2 fastball up in the zone to Neil Walker. 7-4.
Soriano struck Andrew McCutchen out with a 2-2 slider for the first out of the ninth, but gave up a run-scoring single by Russell Martin on a 1-2 slider in the next at bat, prompting Knorr to come out to the mound for a visit that started with a conversation. 7-5 Nats. Knorr eventually took the ball from Soriano and with the Pirates' left-handed hitting third baseman Pedro Alvarez due up, the Nationals' bench coach went to his 'pen for 22-year-old rookie lefty Ian Krol. Alvarez drew a base-loading walk when Krol missed with a full-count fastball, but the Nats' left-hander got out no.2 by striking Jose Tabata out. Josh Harrison stepped in with two down and hit a game-tying, two-run single to center to make it a 7-7 game after eight and a half.
With two down in the bottom of the ninth, however, Bryce Harper came up against Pirates' right-hander Bryan Morris with a runner on after Kurt Suzuki singled and Roger Bernadina grounded into a force at second and Harper hit an opposite field walk-off home run to lift the Nationals to a 9-7 win.
After the game it was Knorr answering questions from the media instead of Davey Johnson, so a reporter asked him why he pulled Soriano in the top of the ninth.
"Well you know," Knorr said, "I was watching him pitch and in the past I've seen him pitch and when it's not a save opportunity he doesn't have the same effect when he's pitching and he wasn't throwing the ball over the plate and a couple of lefties were coming up and I like the way Krol throws the ball and I figured if you don't want to be in that mode to shut the game down, I'll bring somebody else in."
Knorr did, it didn't work out, but the Nationals ended up with the win. Asked how badly the Nats needed the curly-W and how important it was to win it in the bottom of the ninth, Knorr joked, "We actually needed to shut it down in the top of the ninth. But that was huge. Harper was great. I mean, [Morris] is a pretty good pitcher out there and 'Zuki gets the base hit, Bernie beats out the double play ball and Harper gets a good pitch to hit. And that's what we need right now. There's been a lot excitement, ups and downs, but we get high and then we get low really fast, and I think this is big for us."
How bad a loss would that have been? "It would have been tough to overcome," Knorr said, "To tell you how it feels [to win] just walk into the clubhouse right now. You'd [think] we won the World Series or something. But that's the way the game is right now and hopefully this carries over for us and I think we're going to get on a roll here. I think it was a good game for us."
The win snapped a six-game losing streak and left the Nationals 49-53, 8.0 games out of first in the NL East.
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- Stephen Strasburg After Nationals' 4-2 Loss To Pirates: "Six Innings Isn't Cool Anymore For Me."
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