Daniel Murphy sat out the first two games of the Washington Nationals' three-game set with Pittsburgh this weekend, but came on as a pinch hitter late in the series finale on Sunday afternoon and hit a game-tying, ninth-inning home run off Pirates' closer Mark Melancon in his first post-All-Star Break at bat.
Murphy's career-high 18th home run was the first by a left-handed hitter off the Pirates' All-Star reliever this season, and Melancon had a streak of 23-straight saves snapped when he blew his second of 29 opportunities in 2016.
After injuring his left hamstring sliding into second during the All-Star Game, Murphy was held out of the series until that point.
"I was saving Murph for a situation where hopefully he didn't have to run and beat out a double play or something," Dusty Baker explained after what ended up an 18-inning loss.
"This was MVP-caliber in my mind," Baker said of the ninth-inning blast. "He's having an MVP season and that was big. Especially off a guy like Melancon who's an All-Star and a very good pitcher."
Murphy's pinch hit home run left him with a .350/.388/.608 line on the year in his first season in D.C. after signing a 3-year/$37.5M free agent deal this winter.
Before Sunday afternoon's game, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette about the decision to hold Murphy out of the starting lineup for the third game of three with the Pirates in D.C.
He said he was confident that Murphy would be ready for the start of the three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers that starts tonight.
"He felt something sliding into second in the All-Star Game. He's fine. He's 100% ready to go," Rizzo said.
"With the first couple wins of this series, we just figured if we just keep him out today, we give him four more days off.
"It will be kind of his All-Star Break, and he'll be ready to go Tuesday when the Dodgers come in town.
"It was precautionary the first day or two, he's ready to play right now. Obviously he was ready to hit both games and we figured since we won both games we figured we'd keep him out today and give him like a four-day break."
Murphy is officially returning to the lineup tonight to face the Dodgers... and he's playing third. Dusty Baker said this was not his ideal lineup, but he couldn't share the reasons it ended up this way until after the game...
Here's the Nationals' lineup for the series opener with the Dodgers: