October 3, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Soto did it! Nationals win miracle wild card comeback
Heretofore, the three deciding/elimination postseason games at Nationals Park (2012, 2016, and 2017) have each been marked by some outrageously improbable, hideous twist of fate that sealed the losing team's doom. (Obviously, the visitors won.) The same thing happened this year's National League wild card game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, but this time the shoe was on the other foot, and fate finally smiled on the long-tortured Nats.
The game started off on an ominous note, as Max Scherzer gave up a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal before any outs had been recorded, and in the second inning Eric Thames hit a lead-off homer to take a 3-0 lead. The Brewers aptly exploited Max's well-known weak spot, his penchant for challenging hitters with hittable fastballs. But he kept his cool after that, and the Nationals hung in there and eventually came back to win the National League wild card game in truly miraculous fashion. Trea Turner hit a two-out solo home run in the third inning, but neither team scored for the next four innings. The Brewers' Brandon Woodruff pitched four innings, while Max Scherzer pitched five innings, followed by Stephen Strasburg in the very first relief appearance in his career. He was nearly flawless for the next three innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Victor Robles struck out and Michael A. Taylor (recently called up from the minors) pinch hit for Strasburg. Knowing Michael's history of striking out on bad pitches, I groaned and dreaded the worst. But he proved me wrong, and drew a full count after which he was (according to the umpire) hit by a pitch and took first base. Replays showed the ball bounced in a way that could only result from contact with the bat, but the reviewers said it was inconclusive, so the Nats caught a break. He might have walked had it been called a foul, but we'll never know. Anyway, Trea Turner then came up and struck out, followed by Ryan Zimmerman coming in to pinch hit for Adam Eaton. Had the Nats lost, it might well have been Ryan's very last at-bat as a National, but something told me he was not going to end his career in vain. Well, he proved me right, getting a single that put Taylor on third base. Then the fearsome Anthony Rendon came up and walked to load the bases. It was clearly not Josh Hader's best day on the mound. (He had 37 saves this year.) The next batter was 20-year old Juan Soto, the youngest cleanup hitter in postseason baseball history, in the most pivotal moment of his two-year MLB career. I had a good feeling. Juan not only has the muscle of a champion slugger, he has the poise and smarts of a veteran, and boy, did he live up to his soaring reputation! He lined a single to the right fielder Trent Grisham, who misplayed the bounce, and before you knew it three runs had scored to give the Nats the lead! Juan Soto tried for third but was caught in a rundown for the final out, but it didn't really matter. Daniel Hudson successfully closed the game in the ninth inning, giving up one hit and a long fly ball to center field that Victor Robles caught for the final out. It was one of the Nats' biggest late-inning comebacks ever, and fans in Nationals Park erupted in a state of euphoria unlike any other game that has been played there.
Accordingly, I have updated the Washington Nationals page with data on that game, etc. I took photos of several "new" Nats whom I had not seen before, such as Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, et al.
Nationals win in a glorious anti-climax
I was at the Nationals' final regular season game of the year, hosting the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon. My old friend Dave Givens and I had good seats in the middle deck about half way toward the left field pole. We got nice "puffy vests" as a giveaway to the first 20,000 (?) fans, but I was frustrated at the meager selection and high price of postseason T-shirts in the Nats Fan Store. Contrary to my low expectations (given that it was a game of no real significance), it turned out to be exciting and jubilant. The weather was almost ideal, and the Nationals were not slacking off at all. Trea Turner led off the bottom of the first with a single, and after two outs, he made it home on an RBI double hit by Juan Soto. The Indians tied it 1-1 on a solo homer by Francisco Lindor in the third inning, but that was their only run scored during the six innings that Joe Ross pitched. He struck out eight batters, and only allowed four hits, in one of his best outings in a long time. In the bottom of the third, Kurt Suzuki hit a two-run homer while I was in the concourse buying pizza and adult beverages, and that was the Nats' only home run that day. In the middle innings, manager Dave Martinez began substituting bench players for the starters, and to my surprise, Michael A. Taylor (replacing Juan Soto) started a rally in the sixth inning with a single. After Matt Adams flew out, Victor Robles walked, Brian Dozier singled, Wilmer Difo singled, and then Gerardo Parra (cue "Baby Shark" theme song) smashed a two-run double to give the Nats a 7-1 lead. In the seventh inning, Aaron Barrett (who had missed three years due to elbow surgery and associated problems) came in as a relief pitcher, and even though he gave up two singles, a walk, and a wild pitch, only one run scored. Erick Fedde pitched the last two innings without allowing a base-runner, while the Nats staged another rally in the eighth inning, capped by an RBI single by Gerardo Parra. Final score: Nats 8, Indians 2. It was a thoroughly enjoyable triumph, as the Nationals closed the 2019 regular season with eight wins in a row!
NL Divisional series begin
This evening the National League Divisional Series get underway, as the Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals, followed by the L.A. Dodgers hosting the Washington Nationals. The eastern game was close and low-scoring until the ninth inning, when the visitors all of a sudden scored four runs and the home team responded in the bottom of the ninth with one run too few. (Ouch!) L.A. 7, Atlanta 6. The Postseason scores page has been updated accordingly...
In the game just getting underway on the west coast, Walker Buehler starts for the Dodgers, and Patrick Corbin starts for the Nationals. With the highest win-loss record in the National League (106-56), the Dodgers are clearly favored to at least reach the World Series, if not win it. (They were the National League pennant winners in both 2017 and 2018.) But I saw the Nationals defeat the Dodgers when Buehler started for them on July 28, so there is every reason to hope for the same outcome this time. I say the Nats have an even chance to make it to the NLCS, and maybe even go further... Play ball!!