The Washington Nationals had their chances, as they always do. But the Philadelphia Phillies won this one 4-3 in the thirteenth inning as pinch-hitter Andrew Knapp slugged an upper-decker off a gassed Justin Miller trying to muddle through his second inning of work.
How did we get here? It’s a good question.
The Nats actually led this game by three runs at one point as Gio Gonzalez was cruising through four.
Gio Gonzalez is through 4 scoreless inning at 49 pitches. This is the most efficient first 4 innings for a Nationals pitcher in a long time. pic.twitter.com/5AI2qIQQFD
— Talk Nats ⚾ (@TalkNats2) July 1, 2018
Unfortunately, Gio walked the first batter he saw in the fifth inning, and it all went downhill from there. As manager Dave Martinez looked passively on from the dugout, Gio collected one out before a single put a runner in scoring position, then he walked the bases loaded before issuing a full-count walk to Cesar Hernandez that busted up the shutout. Before the Nats’ eyes, even as Brandon Kintzler finished up his warm-up throws in the bullpen, Gio let in another run on a liner that Rhys Hoskins ripped to right field, with Adam Eaton making a great sliding catch to limit the damage on the play, then one more on a sharp grounder through the right side of the infield. Incredibly, Martinez let Gio finish the inning, which he managed to do to preserve a 3-3 tie.
And it stayed 3-3 for a very, very long time. Among the highlights:
- Anthony Rendon hit a two-out double in the eighth inning, but Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (who had earlier pulled his starter Jake Arrieta for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning in another gutsy move) chose to intentionally walk Bryce Harper and pitch to Daniel Murphy, who grounded out harmlessly to strand the runners.
- After a leadoff walk by Mark Reynolds in the ninth inning, Martinez stuck with struggling catcher Pedro Severino in the eight-hole and attempted to have him bunt Reynolds over. Severino jabbed at one pitch outside for strike one, then pulled his bat back on a pitch down the middle for strike two before swinging over a changeup for strike three. Pinch-hitter Michael A. Taylor then hit into a double play to kill what was left of the rally.
- Tim Collins came in for the ninth inning, with closer Sean Doolittle warming behind him. After Collins put two runners on base and got one out, Martinez sent Doolittle to the hill, and the Nats’ bullpen ace got a twin-killing on one pitch sharply grounded to Rendon at third, who fired across to Reynolds for an inning-ending 6-3 double play.
- Trea Turner hit a one-out single in the top of the tenth inning, but Juan Soto (who went 0-for-6 today to follow an 0-for-4 performance last night) swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded out. Rendon then walked to put two runners on for Harper, who grounded out to stifle the rally.
- Martinez elected not to go to Doolittle in the eleventh inning after he made quick work of the Phillies in the bottom of the tenth, but when he inserted Shawn Kelley with the pitcher’s spot due up to lead off the twelfth, he neglected to do a double switch.
- While Kelley got through the eleventh without incident, Martinez chose to pinch-hit with Wilmer Difo instead of allowing Kelley to bat for himself as he did on June 20. Difo walked, was immediately erased on a double play as Eaton hacked at the first pitch he saw instead of either taking to give Difo a chance to steal or attempting to bunt him up to second. He was then inserted into the game for Turner, who was caught stealing to end the top of the twelfth.
- Because Kelley had been pinch-hit for, Martinez was forced to go with Justin Miller, who had already thrown 24 pitches yesterday and eight pitches the day before that, for the bottom of the twelfth and then the bottom of the thirteenth as the Nats failed to score again. Miller was the only man left in the Nats’ bullpen, with Spencer Kieboom the only Nats position player left on the bench.
The game ended as Miller, after getting Odubel Herrera to fly out to right field, surrendered a no-doubter to Knapp on his 35th pitch of the day that got the Citizens Bank Park bell ringing and sent the exhausted Phillies onto the field to celebrate. The win goes to Nick Pivetta, the former Nats prospect who took the loss on Friday but came on in relief today in the thirteenth and shut down the Nats. The loss goes to Miller, his first of the year.
Murphy, unavailable to play first base or run the bases after his ninth-inning pinch hit last night, played all 12⅓ innings in the field at second base in his first MLB start at the position since his knee surgery last October. Eaton also went the distance in right field. In fact, on a day that began with a 105-degree heat index on the field, the only Nats starting position player who was subbed out of this game was Turner in the twelfth inning, with Difo the only pinch-hitter who ended up entering on a double switch for the visitors.
The Nats begin July by falling six games back in the National League East, and questions are being asked about the team’s ability to claw its way back into contention with the Phillies and division-leading Atlanta Braves, as well as about the manager’s ability to push the right buttons in a close game like this one. Today, the answer was no. As the Nats return home for an Independence Day-spanning series against the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox, we will see what the next chapter has to say for the 2018 Nats.
Washington is now 42-40 on the season just past the halfway mark.