The Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants square off this weekend in a four-game battle of first-place clubs at AT&T Park. Not only do these clubs lead their respective divisions, the Nats and Giants entered Thursday’s opener tied with each other for the second-best record in the National League at 59-42., trailing only the Chicago Cubs at 60-40.
It took sitting through another tense and shaky outing by Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, but the Nats took advantage of another tremendous performance by Tanner Roark to take the first game of the series, 4-2, to push the Nats’ record to 60-42 on the season.
The Nats went to work on Giants starter Johnny Cueto in the second. Wilson Ramos led off with a single to right. Jayson Werth flied out and Anthony Rendon popped out to first to put two down.
Ryan Zimmerman started the hit parade with a single to left, and Ramos moved up to second. Danny Espinosa singled up the middle and Ramos scored, with Zimmerman going to second. Tanner Roark came through with a single to center plating Zimmerman.
Trea Turner then laced a singled to center and Espinosa scored from second with Roark taking his place. Bryce Harper drew a walk to load the bases, but Daniel Murphy flied out to right on a well-hit ball to end the inning.
In the bottom half, the Giants loaded the bases on a Buster Posey double and a pair of walks to Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Roark struck out Mac Williamson for the first out. Conor Gillaspie grounded to first and Posey scored, but Cueto fouled out to right to end the Giants threat.
With two outs in the third, Rendon reached on an infield single and Zimmerman followed with a double. Cueto intentionally walked Espinosa to get to Roark, and the Nats pitcher couldn’t help himself a second time, popping out to first.
In the Giants’ half of the fourth, Crawford tripled with one out but Belt struck out and with Williamson batting, Ramos made a nice block of an outside pitch and picked off Crawford, who was too aggressive on the ball in the dirt.
Roark allowed a pair of runners on one out in the fifth, but got a couple of fly ball outs to end any threat.
The Nats added a run in the sixth. With two outs, Turner reached on a single to center, then Harper lashed a double to the left field corner. Turner raced all the way around from first to score. The hit broke an 0 for 19 stretch for Harper.
Roark got two quick outs in the seventh, but Werth couldn’t get to a sinking liner by Gillaspie, which fell in for a single. But Roark got a called strike three against pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena to complete his night.
Roark allowed one earned run on four hits and three walks, striking out three and lowering his season ERA to 2.96. He threw 111 pitches, 64 for strikes. Roark has now tossed seven innings and allowed one earned run or less in eight starts this season, tied for the second most in MLB, behind the Cubs’ Jon Lester with nine.
After Sammy Solis handled the eighth, the only thing left to find out was how manager Dusty Baker would treat a save situation. He turned to Jonathan Papelbon, who famously blew his previous two save situations, including Tuesday at Cleveland.
Papelbon’s first two pitches were at 88 mph, but Crawford did him a favor swinging at a low strike at 2-1 and flied out to deep left center. Brandon Belt followed with a looping single to center, then Papelbon lost Williamson — the seventh-place hitter — on a 3-2 slider that wasn’t anywhere close, to bring the tying run to the plate.
Baker had seen enough, and he went to veteran lefty Oliver Perez. Giants manager Bruce Bochy pinch-hit for the lefty-swinging Gillaspie with backup catcher Trevor Brown. Perez, who hadn’t worked since Sunday against the Padres, walked Brown on a 3-2 fastball to load the bases.
Gregor Blanco then grounded to third and Rendon went to his knees to knock it down, but Espinosa couldn’t handle the throw to second and Belt scored to make it 4-2. Perez buckled down and struck out Denard Span for the second out of the inning, and Baker then went to Shawn Kelley to face switch-hitter Angel Pagan.
The move paid off, as Kelley struck out Pagan to end the game and earn his fifth save of the season.
Where will the Nats turn tomorrow if a save opportunity arises? Who knows, but Kelley secured the Nats 60th win of the season and at least for one night was the closer the team needed.
WP: Roark (10-6) LP: Cueto (13-3) SV: Kelley (5) HR: None E: Espinosa (9).
- With his fifth inning base hit, Jayson Werth extended his on-base streak to a career-high 31 games.
- Entering play on Thursday, Washington ranked second in MLB with a +111 run differential, behind only the Chicago Cubs (+153).
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with Wednesday’s win over Cleveland, Stephen Strasburg is the first pitcher in Nationals/Expos history, to win at least 14 of his first 15 decisions in a season. Prior to this season, 13 pitchers won at least 14 of their first 15 decisions of a season in the Cy Young Award era (since 1956).
- Daniel Murphy went 0 for 3 with two walks, ending his 13-game hit streak, his longest this season and one shy of the longest of his career. During that streak, Murphy was 20 for 48 (.417) with eight doubles, six home runs, 19 RBI, two walks, one stolen base, and 11 runs scored.
- Murphy leads the National League in average (.354), slugging percentage (.624), OPS (1.014), hits (130), doubles (31), and multi-hit games (41). In addition to those categories, Murphy leads all N.L. second basemen in home runs (20), RBI (75) and extra base hits (55).