Sep 18, 2015, 10:29 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals knew they were facing a stiff challenge, trying to beat Jose Fernandez for the first time in six career head-to-head matchups. It would require a strong performance from Max Scherzer, not to mention some timely hits. Thing is, they got all that but still wound up engaged in a battle of bullpens to decide this must-win game.
After Scherzer convinced Matt Williams to let him finish the top of the seventh, the Nationals’ bullpen couldn’t get through the eighth unscathed. A pair of singles off Felipe Rivero and then an RBI grounder off Blake Treinen brought the go-ahead run home for the Marlins.
The Nationals, though, stormed right back in the bottom of the eighth. Yunel Escobar singled and Bryce Harper drew a walk to set the stage. The key moment, though, came when Trea Turner (pinch-running for Escobar) aggressively took third base on a wild pitch that didn’t bounce very far from catcher J.T. Realmuto. That put Turner in position to score on Ian Desmond’s sac fly to shallow center field, tying the game. Moments later, Michael Taylor delivered the latest in his string of clutch hits this season, sending a 2-out, RBI single up the middle to score Harper and give the Nationals the lead.
Jonathan Papelbon came on to close things out in the ninth but immediately got into trouble. Miguel Rojas led off with a ball down the first-base line and wound up on third base when Harper’s ill-advised throw sailed way off-line. Papelbon got Dee Gordon to hit a flyball to center, and Taylor’s throw appeared to beat Rojas to the plate … but sailed over Jose Lobaton’s head, letting the tying run score.
The Nationals couldn’t rally in the bottom of the ninth, so this one went extras. At which point the Nationals finally delivered the winning run. Jayson Werth led off with a double to right-center, then later took third on Realmuto’s passed ball. After a couple of intentional walks, Lobaton stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and lofted a flyball to left. Christian Yelich’s throw to the plate beat Werth, but Realmuto couldn’t hang onto it, and so the Nats somehow eked out a walk-off win.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Clint Robinson certainly has been given some tough assignments in his rookie season. It feels like he’s always in the lineup against the toughest pitchers the Nationals have faced. Maybe that’s because he’s proven he can hit those guys. With two more hits tonight off Fernandez, including a second-deck homer in the bottom of the second, Robinson added to his impressive resume. He has now gone 14-for-30 with four doubles, a homer and two walks against Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Liriano and Masahiro Tanaka. Not bad at all.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: No question, it came with two outs in the top of the seventh and the go-ahead runner on second. With Scherzer’s pitch count at 102, Dee Gordon stepping to the plate and Felipe Rivero warm in the bullpen, Williams emerged from the dugout. Every other time he’s done that this year, it’s signaled a pitching change. Not this time. Before Williams even reached the mound, Scherzer made it crystal clear he wasn’t giving up the ball. “I want it! I [expletive] want it!” So Williams turned around, eliciting a roar from the crowd. So, what did Scherzer do? He got Gordon to ground out to short, ending the inning and earning a bunch of emphatic high-fives when he returned to the dugout.
KEY STAT: After going 365 days between blown saves, Jonathan Papelbon has now blown back-to-back opportunities this week.
UP NEXT: Saturday’s game (with a 4:05 p.m. start time) will see Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 3.51) take the mound for the Nationals against Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino (3-3, 3.81).
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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