Trailing 6-2 after five, the Washington Nationals rallied for three runs with two out in the bottom of the sixth inning, but Juan Soto struck out with the tying run at second base.
After back-to-back singles with one out in the seventh, Nationals’ catcher Pedro Severino grounded into an inning-ending double play, and it looked like the Nats were on their way towards a third straight loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
In the bottom of the eighth, however, things finally went Washington’s way, with a leadoff walk by Brian Goodwin, and a one-out double to right field by Bryce Harper that put the tying run 90 feet from home.
Phillies’ skipper Gabe Kapler made a pitching change, going from right-hander Victor Arano to closer Seranthony Dominguez and got a groundout by Anthony Rendon, but after a base-loading intentional walk to Juan Soto, Daniel Murphy stepped in against Dominguez, and fell behind before lining a 1-2 slider to right field, just over Cesar Hernandez at second base for a go-ahead single that brought Goodwin and Harper home to make it 7-6 Nationals.
Michael A. Taylor singled too, to drive in Soto, and the Nats handed Sean Doolittle an 8-6 lead which he preserved for the save and sweep-avoiding win.
Kapler’s decision to go for Murphy over Soto? He shared his thinking after the loss.
“Soto has been among the league’s most dangerous players,” Kapler explained.
“Murphy is coming off injury, and sort of still going through the process of getting back to being Murphy, has struggled, and with Seranthony’s fastball, it’s not an easy fastball to catch up with.
“We thought that — and I personally thought that Soto was more dangerous in that situation.
“You pick your poison right there. You have two very good hitters. The first one in Soto has been elite and Murphy has struggled a bit, and we went after the guy that was struggling and coming off injury.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said he was actually surprised that the Phillies decided to walk Soto.
“I was pretty surprised, but that’s why — Soto hits lefties. Murphy hits lefties. Murphy hits everybody, I mean, so they had a decision to make, they’re going to bring their closer in, and it worked out in our favor.”
“Soto’s hot. One of the hottest hitters in baseball, and it’s a tough decision. It’s like playing chess, you’ve really got to think about what you’re going to do and they chose to pitch to Murphy.”
Martinez said he was also a little surprised that Dominguez went with a two-strike slider to Murphy.
“I was a little bit surprised. When you throw a 100 mph, you don’t ever want to get beat on your secondary pitch, and Murph, you know, like I said, being the professional hitter he is, he was able to stay on it and hit a line drive.”
Murphy’s professionalism apparently extended to his preparation for the matchup with the hard-throwing Philly righty.
“I was watching some film on him and he had kind of gone with the slider as a kill shot to a couple lefties, so once I got to two strikes, I was aware of it,” Murphy explained.
“I hadn’t seen it yet,” he said, “so that’s never any fun, but fortunately I was able to get it in the air enough and kind of scoop it over Cesar’s head over there at second base.”
Martinez was asked if a night like Murphy had, going 3 for 4 with three singles, could help to get him going after a slow start as he tried to get up to speed after missing 65 games while he recovered from offseason knee surgery.
“Like I said before, it’s just a matter of time,” Martinez said, “it’s all his timing, getting his legs underneath him. I’ve talked to him before. This is part of his Spring Training, and he’s going to start getting it, and tonight was a perfect example. He hit the ball really well.”
“I think it’s getting better,” Murphy said of his timing at the plate. “I wouldn’t say it’s perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel a little bit more comfortable each day.”