Sep 23, 2015, 10:09 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Knowing his team has reached a point where it all but has to win every remaining game on the schedule, Matt Williams asked his ace to do something extraordinary. Max Scherzer couldn’t quite do it, and so the Nationals lost yet another game via a huge hit allowed in the seventh inning. And that only set up some more fireworks later than may have brought some new life to this interleague rivalry.
Scherzer was electric most of the night, striking out 12. But he was done in by a pair of homers, one allowed early, one allowed late. Steve Pearce’s 2-run shot in the top of the first gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead. Then Manny Machado’s 2-run blast in the seventh (on Scherzer’s 122nd pitch of the night) gave Baltimore a 4-3 lead that altered the course of the game.
The Nationals couldn’t overcome that deficit. They got one run back off Chris Tillman in the bottom of the first, then two more in the bottom of the fifth, but couldn’t deliver another hit that would have brought them back.
The real fireworks came in the top of the ninth, when Jonathan Papelbon twice threw up-and-in to Machado, plunking the Orioles third baseman with his second offering. Plate umpire Mark Ripperger immediately ejected Papelbon, prompting both benches to empty (though nothing remotely close to a brawl ensued).
Of more concern, the Nationals wasted a second straight opportunity to pick up a critical game in the standings after the Mets lost again to the Braves. The deficit remains 6 1/2 games with 11 to play, New York’s magic number now down to 5.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Orioles haven’t gone after Bryce Harper much at all in this series; they’ve walked him five times in two nights. But the MVP favorite had a chance to swing away when leading off the eighth with the Nats down a run against right-hander Mychael Givens. So what did Harper do? He squared around to bunt a 1-1 pitch, fouling it off. Givens then struck him out on the next pitch. Harper likes to square around on occasion, especially against tough lefties, but that situation screamed for him to swing away and try to tie the game on his own.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Scherzer’s pitch count was at 104 when he took the mound for the seventh, trying to protect a 3-2 lead. He gave up a quick double to J.J. Hardy but then buckled down and struck out Jimmy Paredes on a 98-mph fastball before getting Gerardo Parra to ground out. His starter’s pitch count now at 117, Williams had to make the kind of decision that has faced him all season: Leave Scherzer in to face Machado with the game on the line, or ask one of his beleaguered relievers (in this case, Casey Janssen) to get the job done? He stuck with Scherzer, who on his 122nd pitch reached back to find 98 mph again but left it over the plate and watched as Machado launched it into the Red Porch for the go-ahead homer. It was the 17th homer Scherzer has allowed in 80 innings since the All-Star break. And the pitch count of 122 was the largest for a Nationals starter since Edwin Jackson threw 123 on Aug. 30, 2012.
KEY STAT: Bryce Harper has reached base 290 times this season, most by any Washington major leaguer since Frank Howard (294 in 1970).
UP NEXT: This year’s Battle of the Beltways wraps up at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, a day later than originally scheduled thanks to a rainout. Tanner Roark (4-6, 4.73) starts for the Nationals against right-hander Tyler Wilson (2-2, 3.72).
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)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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