With the season hanging on by a thread, the Washington Nationals needed a great performance from Stephen Strasburg on Saturday afternoon, and they got it in spades. Strasburg was spectacular over his eight innings of work, amassing thirteen strikeouts while surrendering just one run. Unfortunately, the Nationals did not supply much help. After wasting plenty of offensive opportunities, they scored only one run of their own, and the game proceeded to extra innings before Bryce Harper came up with the walk-off hit in what ended up being a meaningless 2-1 win in the 12th inning.
Today’s game looked early like a pitcher’s duel. Strasburg was in full command of his entire complement of pitches, while Phillies rookie Aaron Nola worked himself out of whatever jams he pitched into.
The Nationals threatened a few times early, but their first rallies were met with the same sort of futility that has sabotaged their entire season. The worst of these came in the fourth inning. The Nationals strung together three straight singles to open the inning, loading the bases with no outs. A strikeout by Ian Desmond, a lineout to second by Matt den Dekker, and a groundout by Wilson Ramos quickly turned that potential into disappointment.
Strasburg kept dealing, though, and once the Nationals had chased Nola from the game after five scoreless innings, they made the Phillies bullpen pay.
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Harper led off the sixth with his 123rd walk of the year, tying the franchise record for walks in a single season. With Werth at the plate, Adam Loewen bounced two wild pitches to the backstop, allowing Harper to move to second, then third. Two batters later, Desmond’s soft groundout to third brought Harper home and gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
That looked like it would be enough, given how dominant Strasburg had been, but things unraveled in the eighth. Darin Ruf, the only player to reach base through the first seven innings, singled to lead off the eighth. After Andres Blanco‘s sacrifice bunt, Brian Bogusevic drove a ball deep into the left-center gap to tie the game at one. The Phillies were able to get runners on second and third, but Strasburg notched his 13th strikeout to get out of the jam without allowing any further damage.
Strasburg’s day ended there, with a spectacular line: eight innings pitched, three hits, one run, one walk, and 13 K’s on 101 pitches. On almost any other day, that would have been enough to earn a win, but due to the Nationals’ offensive woes, Strasburg exited with no decision.
It was Jonathan Papelbon who came in to pitch the ninth, and he was able to work around a few threats to give the Nationals the opportunity to walk it off in regulation. Unfortunately, the Nationals bats went silent, and the game proceeded to extra innings.
The game remained locked at 1-1 until the bottom of the 12th. With one out, Anthony Rendon singled to start the rally, and Yunel Escobar followed with a walk. Then the favorite for NL MVP stepped to the plate and sent a double to right field to plate Rendon and give the Nats a 2-1 victory just as rain started to fall.
Unfortunately, regardless of the Nationals’ efforts, their playoffs hope died on Saturday evening as the Mets crushed the Reds in Cincinnati to clinch the NL East and knock the Nationals out of postseason contention. For the second time in three years, the Nationals will be watching October baseball from their couches. It’s a disappointing end to a disappointing year, and now the Nationals will use their last few games to evaluate players for next year.
The road to the offseason begins Sunday afternoon, as the Phillies send out Aaron Harang (6-15, 4.93 ERA) to face off against lefty Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.94 ERA). You can catch the game on MASN2 at 1:35 PM ET.