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Washington Nationals 4, San Francisco Giants 1: Eighth inning triple play bails pen out in win

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Max Scherzer pitched seven strong innings, the Nats turned the team’s first triple play in history — at a most opportune time — and the Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals have recently had troubles pitching in the ninth inning, with meltdowns coming from just about anyone picking up a ball for the Nats, most notably Jonathan Papelbon. It didn’t come to that in the second game of the four-game set against the San Francisco Giants.

On Friday, rather, the troubles were (mainly) in the eighth inning. Papelbon was nowhere to be found, but there was still trouble aplenty. But a most opportune triple play allowed the Nats to escape that threat and take the second game from the Giants, 4-1, at AT&T Park.

Max Scherzer turned in another strong appearance to run his season record to 11-6.

Leading 4-1, Oliver Perez took over the eighth inning in tough luck — Denard Span reached on a bunt and Angel Pagan’s bloop fell in front of Werth to put two on. Blake Treinen entered and walked Buster Posey to load the bases.

Manager Dusty Baker then called for a triple switch — Sammy Solis came in to pitch, Ryan Zimmerman relieved Robinson at first and Danny Espinosa took over for Difo at short.

On an 0-1 pitch, Brandon Crawford lined out to Zimmerman. The veteran first baseman outraced Posey to first for the second out, then alertly lobbed it across the diamond to pick off Span, who had broken for the plate on contact.

It was the Nats’ first triple-play in team history — and apparently the first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history -- and saved the team’s collective bacon in the inning.

The Giants broke on top in the second with two outs. Conor Gillaspie doubled and came home on Gregor Blanco’s single.

The Nationals (61-42) got to Giants starter Jeff Samardzija in the fourth. After Daniel Murphy flied out, Wilson Ramos doubled to deep center field. Jayson Werth completed a nine-pitch at bat by singling to right to plate Ramos, and Werth took second on the throw — but was left stranded when Clint Robinson and Anthony Rendon flied out.

Wilmer Difo — recalled when Stephen Drew hit the disabled list -- doubled to start the fifth. Scherzer moved him up with a sacrifice bunt, and Ben Revere’s single brought him in. Revere stole second, and Bryce Harper flied out, but Murphy tripled to center to score Revere.

But Murphy seemed to stumble coming around second in the play and eventually left the game, replaced by Trea Turner at second base.

The Nats picked another run up in the sixth. Werth led off with a double, went to third on Robinson’s ground out, and scored on Rendon’s single to center to make it 4-1.

Scherzer had a 1-2-3 sixth and pitched around a walk in the seventh before giving way to the bullpen. In seven innings he gave up one run on five hits and two walks, striking out a modest six.

After the excitement of the triple play, Felipe Rivero started the ninth and retired Brandon Belt and Gillaspie easily. Blanco ripped a single to left and Baker lifted Rivero for Shawn Kelley.

The de facto closer was greeted by a single by catcher Trevor Brown and Blanco went to third. Brown moved up to second on defensive indifference, but Kelley struck out the recently acquired Eduardo Nunez to seal the win away.

Just like Mike Rizzo drew it up in spring training.

WP: Scherzer (11-6) LP: Samardzija (9-7) SV: Kelley (6) HR: None E: None.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at 4:05 Eastern. Reynaldo Lopez (0-1, 11.57) faces Jake Peavy (5-9, 5.42).

NATS NOTES

  • The Nats recorded eight two-out hits and four two-out RBI to pull away from the Giants in the first game of this four-game weekend set, topping San Francisco, 4-2. The eight two-out hits matched a season-high, according to STATS, LLC (also: April 15 at Philadelphia).
  • Tanner Roark allowed one earned run on four hits in 7.0 innings of work to earn his 10th win of the season. With the win, Washington (Stephen Strasburg-14, Tanner Roark-10, Max Scherzer-10) joins the Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta-12, Jason Hammel-10, Jon Lester-10) as the only clubs to have three 10-game winners.
  • With his effort last night, Roark has allowed one earned run or fewer while pitching 7.0 innings eight times this season. Those eight outings are tied for the second-most in MLB this season. Jon Lester of the Cubs has done it nine times.
  • With a single in the fifth inning on Thursday, Jayson Werth extended his on-base streak to a career-high 31 games. It is tied for the longest active streak in the Major Leagues and is tied for the fifth-longest on-base streak in MLB this season. Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins owns the longest streak in MLB this season (36 games, 4/21-5/29).
  • During this stretch, Werth has collected 25 hits (10 2B, 2 HR), 25 walks and has posted a .376 on-base percentage.