Until the bottom of the ninth inning of Thursday’s game between the Nationals and the Chicago Cubs, I thought I would be writing about Stephen Strasburg’s brilliant pitching performance and second complete game in three starts.
Instead, Strasburg gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score and send the game into extra innings. Four innings of nail biting later, the Nationals scored a run in the top of the thirteenth and Drew Storen earned the save. The Nats won the game in the thirteenth inning, 5-4.
The start of the game was delayed about two hours by rain. The rain delay did not seem to affect Strasburg at all. He pitched well from the very start of the game. Stephen was locating his pitches and had the nasty breaking ball working. Until the top of the ninth inning, he had given up a solo home run to Brian Bogusevic in the eighth inning and nothing else. Strasburg struck out eight Cubs during the game.
The rain delay might have bothered Cubs starter Travis Wood. The Nats scored their first three runs in the first two innings of the game. Ryan Zimmerman homered in the first inning. In the second, Tyler Moore singled. After Scott Hairston struck out, Steve Lombardozzi doubled to put runners on second and third. Strasburg helped his own cause, hitting an RBI single which scored Moore and moved Lombo to third. Anthony Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to score Lombardozzi and the Nats were ahead by three runs.
After the second inning, Wood found his form and the only National who reached base in the third through the sixth innings was Moore on a throwing error by Starlin Castro. Speaking of Castro, he did not have a good game. Not only did he commit an error, but he was thrown out at second base twice on attempted steals. After the first time Wilson Ramos canned him at second, you would have thought he had learned his lesson, but luckily for the Nats he did not. Ramos gunned him down again the next time he got on base trying to steal.
Lombardozzi contributed to the Nats run total again in the top of the seventh when he hit his first home run of the year, putting the Nats up by four. Strasburg then singled again. After getting Bryce Harper and Rendon out, Wood gave up a single to Zimmerman and his day was done. Cubs reliever Blake Parker replaced Wood and got the third out of the inning. Parker then pitched a scoreless eighth.
With a brand new game starting in the tenth inning, the Nationals leaned on their best relievers. Tyler Clippard pitched a perfect tenth, and Craig Stammen threw the 11th and 12th, walking one and allowing no hits. Stammen was the winning pitcher.
In the top of the thirteenth inning, the Nationals finally broke through against Cubs reliever Michael Bowden. Denard Span doubled and Lombardozzi sacrificed him to third. Goon Squad leader Chad Tracy pinch hit for Stammen and grounded a ball to the pitcher which scored Span from third. After Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch (not on purpose), Rendon popped out to end the inning.
Drew Storen came into the bottom of the thirteenth in a save situation and pitched well. He got Castro to strike out and then worked around the Lombardozzi throwing error. He did not let it bother him and it did not affect his performance. Rafael Soriano had gotten the last out of the ninth inning after Strasburg was pulled and was not available to close. With Storen pitching as well as he is, that was not an issue.
The Nationals had two problems during the game. The first was that the infield was without Ian Desmond for the game due to his back issues. Rendon was forced into duty at shortstop and Lombardozzi started at second base. The Nats infield committed three errors in the game. Strasburg worked around throwing a error by Zimmerman, but a throwing error by Rendon in the top of the ninth would prove very costly. With two outs, Junior Lake reached on the error and the next hitter, Donnie Murphy, hit a home run to tie the game. Lombardozzi had a throwing error in the bottom of the 13th that gave the Nats fans fainting spells and put the tying run on base, but Storen induced a ground ball for the double play to end the game.
The other issue was the Nationals continuing inability to push runs across the plate when they have the opportunity. The Nats left twelve men on base during the game. They do not continue to pile on runs when they have the chance and put their cleats on the neck of the other team. That needs to change.