The week of the walk-off may be over, but the Nationals proved Sunday that they’re far from finished with their late-game drama and comeback heroics. After being put in a hole by their young ace, Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals put together a rally that turned an ugly loss into a rout and a series win.
The old, tired narrative on Strasburg was that he struggled early in games. His ERA in innings one and two was a colossal 5.17; in every inning after that, it was a much more impressive 2.61.
Strasburg did nothing to shake that image on Sunday. Leading off the game, Gregor Blanco hammered a 3-2 pitch into the stands for an early 1-0 Giants lead. While a walk and another hit didn’t amount to any further damage in the first, Strasburg’s troubles resumed in the second. Another fastball caught too much of the plate, and Travis Ishikawa drove the pitch over the fence. The Giants lead was now 2-0.
Unfortunately, it was here that Strasburg veered from his normal tendencies. Rather than settling into a groove, the young pitcher let the bleeding continue. Mike Morse doubled in Hunter Pence; Buster Posey scored on a sacrifice fly; and Brandon Crawford singled in Morse. After three innings, the Nationals trailed 5-0.
The Nationals managed to make up two of those runs in the fourth. Jayson Werth doubled. Adam LaRoche followed suit, and Asdrubal Cabrera did the same. The Nationals trailed 5-2. The deficit would be stretched to four by a Hunter Pence RBI in the top of the 6th.
Then, the Nationals’ rally began in earnest.
Ian Desmond cut the lead to 6-3 with a one-out solo shot to chase Ryan Vogelsong. Jeremy Affeldt came on in relief, but he failed to fare much better. Bryce Harper greeted him with a powerful double to the opposite field. Asdrubal Cabrera reached on an errant throw by Crawford. Harper scored on a wild pitch. Jose Lobaton singled into left to drive Cabrera. Scott Hairston, pinch hitting, continued the scoring with a double to drive in Lobaton. The Nationals had turned the bases into a merry-go-round, and the game was tied, 6-6.
Three hitters later, Jayson Werth, sore shoulder and all, put the Nationals on top by singling to center to drive in Hairston. LaRoche followed by plating Anthony Rendon. The Nationals had turned a 6-2 deficit into an 8-6 lead in a single inning.
From there, the game quickly dissolved into a rout. Denard Span drove in a run in the seventh, and Desmond, Harper, and Espinosa added five more in the eighth. Meanwhile, the bullpen combination of Storen, Clippard, and Soriano kept the Giants from ever threatening any sort of retribution.
Except for the single run allowed by Craig Stammen, the Nationals bullpen pitched a shutout in relief of Strasburg, who ended the game with five earned runs in four innings pitched on 8 hits, with four strikeouts. It was an impressive performance for a group that has admittedly struggled even in the midst of the Nats’ recent success.
Thanks to a 5-3 win by the Reds, the Nationals now hold an 8 game lead in the NL East. They’ve won 12 of their last 13, and own the best record in the National League. Monday, they’ll kick off a three game series with the Phillies as Tanner Roark (12-7) faces off against A.J. Burnett (6-14).
Notes: Giants CF Angel Pagan did not start the game due to some tightness in his left calf. Asdrubal Cabrera left the game with tightness in his right side and will be evaluated Monday. Stephen Strasburg notched his 200th strikeout of the season in the second, fanning Vogelsong; this is the first time Strasburg has reached that milestone in his career.
Tags: Washington Nationals