Down 6-0 in the second inning, you’re not supposed to come back from that.
When you need to bring in your rookie long man in the fourth, you’re not supposed to win that game.
When you score 11 runs in a game, you’re not supposed to need your closer.
And yet here we are, having witnessed all of these things on a wild night at Kauffman Stadium that ended up falling in the Nationals favor, an 11-10 win that leveled the club’s record at 64-64 and had more than its share of heroes and goats.
We’ll do the positives first, cause that’s the kind of people we are around here. A list of this game’s stars might start with Tanner Roark, just one year removed from 17 losses as a starter at AAA Syracuse. In his 6th big-league appearance, Roark righted the ship beautifully after Gio Gonzalez was roughed up, throwing 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and keeping the Royals at bay on a night when it looked like Kansas City might have its way with the Nationals. The 26-year-old picked up the win to move to 4-0 on the year, showcasing not only his pitching ability but also his skills as a major league vulture.
You also have to appreciate Bryce Harper, starting in right field on Friday while Jayson Werth served as the designated hitter. Harper provided a thumping denouement to the Nationals early comeback, erasing a 6-3 Kansas City lead by hitting a three-run double off Royals’ left-hander Bruce Chen, knocking him out of the game in the midst of Washington’s seven-run fourth inning.
It was Harper’s only hit in the game, but not his only contribution. With Kansas City trailing by just a run in the bottom of the ninth, Emilio Bonifacio popped up to shallow right, well away from Harper, who was stationed deep in a “no-doubles” defense. Nonetheless, Harper raced in and dove headlong to snare the ball, keeping the tying run out of scoring position and probably saving the closer’s job for Rafael Soriano (more on him later.)
There were more offensive stars for the Nationals — Werth homered immediately following Harper’s double, giving Washington the lead; Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore each collected three hits; the team went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position; it should have been a cozy win. Except the pitching, with the notable exception of the aforementioned Roark, didn’t deliver.
Gonzalez struggled for the second straight outing against an American League opponent, following up last month’s 10-run debacle in Detroit. An early two-run homer by Eric Hosmer just two batters in was a portent of things to come for Gonzalez, who surrendered another longball to Justin Maxwell and allowed three more runs in the second inning. Even after being handed the lead with Washington’s splendid fourth-inning outburst, Gonzalez couldn’t make his way through the fifth, giving way to Roark.
With the Nationals bullpen taxed mightily of late, Roark’s outing was a life-saver. Drew Storen was tabbed pre-game to close if needed, with Soriano and Tyler Clippard suffering from ineffectiveness (in the case of the former) and fatigue (in the case of the latter.) When Storen entered in the ninth, on a roll since being recalled from Syracuse, all seemed right wit the world.
Until he surrendered a walk and a double. For some reason, manager Davey Johnson had seen enough. He summoned Soriano into the newly-created save situation, and predictably, the struggling closer gave up a run-scoring ground out and two more singles, cutting the Washington lead to 11-10. Only Harper’s diving catch kept Kansas City from roaring all the way back.
That said, it’s not a bad time to be watching the Nationals play. The team has now won four in a row and seems to have at least righted the ship after that ugly home sweep at the hands of the Braves a couple of weeks ago. Washington will send Jordan Zimmermann (14-7, 3.37 ERA), himself looking to rebound from an ugly outing, to the hill on Saturday against Kansas City’s Wade Davis (6-9, 5.43).