One day after watching the Cincinnati Reds swat six home runs in a 15-0 nightmare, the Washington Nationals got on the long-ball bandwagon themselves Saturday afternoon, clubbing five round-trippers and needing every one of them in a 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Reds at Great American Ballpark.
It was a game the Nationals needed in order to wash away the sour taste of Friday’s lopsided loss, the worst since the team moved to Washington. The way it transpired — Washington building a lead, the bullpen and defense failing in the late innings to allow the Reds to tie it, a pair of extra-inning homers to win it — would have been a stellar playoff game. Instead, it merely evened the early-season series between two of the National League’s title contenders.
The two 11th-inning home run heroes, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, had divergent reasons for enjoying their heroics. For Desmond, the bomb that broke the 5-5 tie against the Reds’ J.J. Hoover (0-2) helped to salve the wounds of a two-error game that cost Washington a pair of unearned runs. Desmond’s shortstop play thus far in the nascent season has been underwhelming, but his home run Saturday was not, rocketing into the second deck.
Two batters later, Ramos hit one just as hard on top of the Reds bullpen in center. It was the catcher’s second blast of the game, following a two-run shot in the sixth inning, and came in the same ballpark where he tore his knee ligaments last May. One year, two surgeries and many long hours of rehab later, Ramos seems poised to regain his status as one of baseball’s brighter young catchers.
The Reds did make it interesting at the end however, as quality teams are wont to do. Craig Stammen, in his second inning of work, started the 11th with back-to-back strikeouts before walking Joey Votto on a close pitch. After Votto took second, Brandon Phillips doubled him home to shave the Washington lead to 7-6. But Stammen (1-0) recovered to fan Jay Bruce and end the game.
From Washington’s standpoint, the game probably should never have reached that point. The Nationals held a 5-1 lead through seven innings, thanks to three home runs. Bryce Harper started the party with his third of the year in the third inning, followed by Ramos’s first blast in the sixth. After Werth hammered a ball to right-center for a solo shot in the seventh, the game looked to be fairly safe in the capable hands of the Washington bullpen in relief of a strong first start of the season by Ross Detwiler.
But Desmond’s second error of the day, coupled with a throwing error by Harper on the same play, opened the door for the Reds to shave the Washington lead to 5-3 in the eighth against Drew Storen, and Rafael Soriano suffered his first blown save as a Nat one inning later. Shin Soo Choo greeted the Washington closer with a home run, and Votto almost followed suit two batters later, settling for a triple. Soriano then uncorked a wild pitch that brought Votto home and sent the game to its extra-inning conclusion.