If it weren’t for those pesky extra innings, the Washington Nationals might have another great comeback story to tell.
Two years to the day after their epic, seven-run, ninth-inning comeback against the New York Mets, the Nationals again rallied in the ninth against Mets’ closer Edwin Díaz, but this time fell to the Mets in 10 innings, 6-2.
“The boys fought back to make it 2-2, and we just couldn’t finish,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward. “These guys are playing hard, and they played till the end and we pushed to come back. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t finish that game and win it.”
The Nationals trailed 2-0 entering the ninth, having mustered four hits all night against veteran left-hander Rich Hill and relievers Seth Lugo and Aaron Loup.
Then Juan Soto greeted Díaz with an opposite field, solo homer before Andrew Stevenson scored the tying run from first base on a double by Riley Adams.
Stevenson was on first as a pinch runner for Ryan Zimmerman, who walked with one out.
After Adams’ sinking line drive got past Brandon Nimmo in center in right, Stevenson got the green green light from Bob Henley.
Javier Báez’s relay throw beat Stevenson to the plate, but Stevenson met catcher Chance Cisco’s diving tag in full stride, tripping over the Mets’ catcher and knocking the ball loose before flipping in the air and landing behind home plate. He pushed up and tagged the plate as Díaz went to retrieve the loose baseball.
With one out, the Nats had two chances to get Adams home, but Carter Kieboom struck out, and Luis García grounded out to end the inning.
Martinez wanted to see Kieboom make contact.
“I wanted to see — especially with two strikes, just get in there and try to get the ball over the plate,” said the manager. “I know Díaz is tough, very tough, especially on right-handed hitters, but just try to stay on the ball and just put the ball in play and see what happens.”
Extra innings have not been good to the Nats this season; their 2-7 record in extras is worst in the National League.
Austin Voth kept up that trend by issuing a leadoff single to Pete Alonso to score Francisco Lindor, the runner who started the inning on second.
“The ball that Alonso hit, I think almost hit the ground, and he dumped it in for a base hit and then everything fell apart.”
With one out and Alonzo at third, Voth intentionally walked Conforto to set up the force, but Kevin Pillar doubled down the left field line to score Alonzo, and the gates were open for a big inning, powered by Jonathan Villar’s two-run double down the right field line.
“He was able to put the bat on it, and then the ground ball by Villar. Just a tough outing for Voth, but he’s been throwing the ball well,” said Martinez.
“I think the only mistake I probably made that I wish I would have gone with another pitch, was the pitch to Pillar, the cutter,” Voth said. “I could have gone fastball up or curveball in the dirt. But my mindset doesn’t change with a runner on second and no outs. You still have to attack and go at the hitter.”
The first time the Nats saw 41-year-old lefty Rich Hill, he was taking a bat to the Tampa Bay dugout bench after they had pounded him for four runs on eight hits in six innings in a 4-3 Nats’ win over the Rays on June 29.
A couple months and a trade to the Mets, and two more starts against the Nationals later, Hill looked like he’d worked out all his problems against a much different Nats’ team than he’d faced in June.
He allowed just three hits in six scoreless innings, with four strikeouts and a pair of walks.
The Nats helped him out with baserunning errors after their first two hits. Lane Thomas led off the first win a single, but then forgot to re-touch second retreating to first on Alcides Escobar’s fly ball to Brandon Nimmo. In the third inning, Luis García was picked off second after doubling.
“That’s something that I talked to him about right away. I talked to Luis García about he can’t get picked off right there, in that situation, down two runs, so but you know, they’ve got to learn and they’ve got to learn quickly,” said Martinez.
“And Lane in the first inning, just not re-tagging the base, that’s something that is taught all the way through in the minor leagues, but he understood, and in that situation right there, with no outs, you don’t even have to go that far.”
Nats’ lefty Sean Nolin worked out of jams in the second and third innings, but not before allowing a run in each. He also shook off a second-inning line drive off the bat of Michael Conforto that hit left shoulder before completing five innings and allowing five hits with a walk and three strikeouts.