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A most unusual doubleheader for the Washington Nationals

Seven inning games? A one-game road trip? Batting first at Nationals Park? Only in 2020 is a twin bill this complicated.

MLB: Game Two-Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins
There was more confusion in Saturday’s Nationals-Marlins doubleheader than was apparent on this first-inning popup from Game 2. The Nats split a pair of seven-inning games, one of which was played as a Marlins home game.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Doubleheaders were once fairly common in the major leagues before falling out of favor with penurious baseball owners, until 2020, the year we not only got more doubleheaders, but shorter, quirkier, home-and-home doubleheaders.

First, there was the seven-inning opener. This was the first time the Nationals have played a game shortened by the current rules, rather than the weather or some other external factor.

Rules quiz: If a pitcher has to complete five innings to qualify for a win in a nine-inning game, how many innings does he have to pitch to qualify for a win in a seven-inning game? Right! The same five. Makes perfect sense. As much sense as anything else in 2020.

So Max Scherzer cruises along for four innings and two outs, but can’t get out of the fifth and is disqualified from being the winning pitcher. That goes to Kyle Finnegan who came on with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the fifth and threw six pitches to strike out Jorge Alfaro and end the threat. On-brand for the Nats, and on-brand for 2020.

Sherzer said afterward that seven-inning games should not be a problem for him because his goal is always to finish seven innings.

“You’re always trying to pitch seven innings, you’re always trying to pitch deep into a game, so it really doesn’t affect what I’m trying to do with the baseball.

“It might affect if I was pitching efficiently and I’m there in the sixth or seventh some of those decisions might be just a touch bit different, because of who would be able to come into the ballgame.

“That’s where you’ve got to evaluate are you the right pitcher at the moment, but that’s not what happened today.”

Manager Davey Martinez said before the first game that even seven-inning doubleheaders present problems for managing pitchers.

“When you play these doubleheaders, it’s all about taxing your bullpen,” Martinez said. “The biggest reason why we’re doing this, health issues for pitchers, those extra two innings in games in a doubleheader, could be taxing on your bullpen, plus we’ve got a day game tomorrow too, at [12:35].”

Martinez got nearly as many innings out of Scherzer as he expected, and tapped Kyle Finnegan, Tanner Rainey, and Daniel Hudson to close out the first game, leaving his plans intact for the nightcap, where 25-year-old William Chandler Crowe made his first major league start.

Seth Romero, Dakota Bacus backed up Crowe, and none of the pitchers had an unusually high workload.

Then there was the one-game “road trip.”

The doubleheader was scheduled when the Nationals declined to play a series in Miami during the first week of the season, when multiple Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. So the make-up game is for one that would have been played in Miami. For the doubleheader nightcap, the scoreboard at Nationals Park displayed all the Marlins’ home graphics, and Marlins players got the extra flourish when their names were announced. The Marlins also got the benefit throughout the series of a siren over the public address system after their home runs.

So during the game, the Nats batted first in their own home ballpark, while the Marlins never got to avail themselves of the traditional home-team perk of batting in the bottom of the last inning, the seventh in this case.

Even as the road team in the game, the Nats wore their white “Gold Collection” uniforms, and the Marlins wore traditional road gray pants and alternate black shirts.

This isn’t the first time the Nats have batted as the visiting team in their home ballpark. Two of the four games against Toronto last month were supposed to be played in Toronto, but the Blue Jays at the time still did not yet have permission to play home games in Buffalo, N.Y.