July 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Nats barely beat the Giants, twice
The Washington Nationals sure know how to make their games exciting! With the bullpen situation in utter disarray, no lead is safe in the late innings. Fortunately, their starting pitchers have done superbly in the last three games, each going seven innings while give up no more than one run. On Thursday evening, Tanner Roark went up against Giants' ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, a daunting challenge. But the Nats staged a three-run rally in the third inning, and Cueto was visibly flustered. Relief pitcher Sammy Solis got through the eighth inning unscathed, allowing just a walk, but the ninth inning was a classic "Maalox Moment." Having learned from the previous disasters on the mound, Dusty Baker had clearly lost patience with the erstwhile closing pitcher Jonathan Paplebon, who was yanked after giving up a walk and a single, with just one out. But the next pitcher Oliver Perez was almost as shaky, and it didn't help that the Giants scored on a weird infield ground ball that Danny Espinosa flubbed. Shawn Kelley then came in and struck out Denard Span to end the game. Whew! Final score: Nats 4, Giants 2.
Last night (Friday), the Giants scored a run on two hits in the second inning, but Max Scherzer hung in there and finished seven innings only giving up three more hits. He got six strikeouts, taking the #1 spot in the major leagues at least for the time being. The Nats got lots of clutch hits in the middle innings, scoring once in the fourth, twice in the fifth, and once in the sixth inning.
The Giants were threatening in the bottom of the eighth inning, having loaded the bases with nobody out, when the whole game changed course in a sudden twist of fate. Brandon Crawford smashed a low line drive right that seemed certain to score at least one run, except that it landed into the glove of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He trotted to first to force out the base runner and then lobbed the ball to third base, thereby turning the very first triple play in Nationals history! See MLB.com. Not only that, it the very first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history. For a list of all previous MLB triple plays, see baseball-almanac.com. There has been one triple play in Nationals Park, on May 19, 2010. Ironically, the Nationals beat the Mets in that game 5-3, even though the other team executed the triple play before, and in both games Angel Pagan was on the other team.
The ninth inning had plenty of drama, as Felipe Rivero got two quick outs but was then yanked after giving up a single. The next pitcher Shawn Kelley likewise gave up a single, and Nats' nerves were fraying badly. But he finally struck out Eduardo Nuñez to end the game. Whew again! Final score: Nats 4, Giants 1.
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins lost, so the Nationals' lead in the NL East is now six games. This afternoon's game in San Francisco is a tight one, 3-3 in the middle of the fifth inning.
Nats get Melancon in trade
Kudos to General Manager Mike Rizzo for getting a top-notch closing pitcher, two days before the non-waiver trading deadline. It was announced this afternoon that the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to trade Mark Melancon for two left-handed Nats pitchers: Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn, a rookie prospect. It's strange that the Pirates have pretty much given up hope for the postseason this year. Melancon (pronounced "Mel-AN-son," suggesting French ancestry) was an All-Star this year, and had 51 saves for the Pirates last year. [He came up with the New York Yankees in 2009, and later played for Houston and Boston. During his three years in Pittsburgh, he logged at least 71 innings pitched each year, and had a cumulative ERA of under 2.00, which is pretty impressive. He could be the guy who makes the difference for the Nationals as this season heads toward a climax.] He should be available to pitch in the series finale in San Francisco on Sunday. See MLB.com.