The “little things” ledger had a deficit early in this July 5th game which was one for the ages. With some very uninspiring defense early on by the Washington Nationals, something seemed to click for the Nationals in the bottom of the 4th inning. Maybe they were inspired that Jeremy Hellickson went 4-innings when he was sick. Maybe it was the echoes of the team meeting where Max Scherzer talked about what hustle means and how it was expected from everyone. We know Max practices what he preaches and leads by example. In the bottom of the 4th inning, yes, Trea Turner hit a home run to break up the shutout and make it a 9-to-1 game — but it was Bryce Harper three batters later who grounded out on a routine (4-3) ball and he HUSTLED all the way through the base. Yes, Bryce Harper hustled out of the box. It was the 3rd out, and maybe that’s where things would turn the following inning for this team — and it would as Trea Turner’s biggest play of the night might have come on a simple groundball out as the “little things” were really adding up for the Nats.
“When Trea hit the [solo] home run, we went [to a score of] 9-1,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It felt like we took the lead. They were jacked up.”
In the 5th inning, Jefry Rodriguez relieved starter Jeremy Hellickson. It was a quick 1-2-3 inning for JRod. It got the Nationals back up to bat within minutes. Matt Adams led-off the bottom of the 5th inning with a single en route to a 4-for-5 night. Daniel Murphy walked. Michael Taylor ripped a single which could not score Adams from 2nd base. Pedro Severino swung at 5 straight pitches of which maybe 2 were in the zone and struck out on a high 95 mph heater from rookie starter Pablo Lopez who Marlins manager kept in the game presumably to “earn” the win.
This is where Nationals manager Dave Martinez had to make a decision. Do you keep pitcher Jefrey Rodriguez in a 9-to-1 game to hit for himself and continue to mop-up or do you see what your bench can do and piece together the final 4-innings and strain an already over-worked bullpen? Martinez chose the latter and rolled the dice sending Adam Eaton in the game. He would work 1-of-the-3 pinch-hit walks on the night for his team.
All three pinch-hit walks would be instrumental in this comeback. That RBI walk from Eaton made the score 9-to-2. The Nationals once had an 8-run come-from-behind win in the “Dan Uggla” game but never had won from a 9-run deficit. Now for a hustle play that should not go unnoticed. Trea Turner came up to bat for the third time in the game and in a 1-2 count smoked a ball to the right-side and for some reason Justin Bour was playing 20 feet off of first base and snagged the ball attempting to start an inning ending doubleplay — but the speedy Turner turned it into an RBI fielder’s choice as he beat it out to extend the inning and turn the score to 9-to-3. On cue, Juan Soto would come up big (again) and just missed a 3-run home run but was rewarded with a 2-run double to make the score 9-to-5. The teenager did what he has done most of the season and came through in the clutch with Trea Turner scoring from 1st base where speed once again kills.
Yes, the “little things” were adding up on the Nationals ledger, and they were not done. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Mattingly went to his bullpen and brought in his thrifty lefty Adam Conley and his 1.42 ERA. Bryce Harper really worked hard to get on base drawing a walk from a 3-2 count. The Nats stacked lefties, and Matt Adams mashed a first pitch 96.4 mph double to move Harper to 3rd base. While first pitch swinging after a walk rarely pays off, on this night it did. Another lefty stepped into the box where Daniel Murphy had a chance at redemption to make up for his defensive shortcomings, and he got a run in with a long sacrifice fly to make the score 9-to-6. Finally a right-hander would step into the box. Mattingly did not pull his lefty reliever and Michael A. Taylor never had to take the bat off of his shoulder as he took a 4-pitch walk. Now the tying run would step into the batter’s box as Davey Martinez pinch-hit for the struggling Pedro Severino with his big hairy right-hander Mark Reynolds. Once again, Mattingly did not counter with a righty pitcher especially since Reynolds has struggled against right-handed relievers in his career. Reynolds would really work Conley and earned a pinch-hit 3-2 walk. Martinez would then use his 3rd bench player in Wilmer Difo. Maybe a mistake to essentially burn your 4th bench player as the under-the-weather Spencer Kieboom would have to enter the game anyway to replace Pedro Severino who was pinch-hit for leaving only Brian Goodwin on the bench. Why not use Kieboom to pinch-hit and save Difo? Well, Davey had his analytics chart and knew Difo’s record against Conley.
What Dave Martinez was doing was “going for it” as he always had secret weapon Max Scherzer to pinch-hit if needed. Difo was a career 3-for-5 against Conley with a home run and a walk. Unfortunately on this night Conley got Difo on the changeup that looked like a fastball. Trea Turner took note with 2-outs and the bases loaded. Conley started him off with a changeup then went to the slider and back to the changeup. In a 1-2 count with 2-outs and a 9-to-6 game, Conley went 96.6 mph heater. Keep in mind that Turner was 0-for-8 in his career against Conley. If Conley hits his spot with the heater, Turner is dead meat but he left it over the plate enough that Turner barreled it up for a grand slam into the visitor’s bullpen.
“After throwing three off-speed, I thought [Conley] was going to try to throw a fastball up in the zone,” Trea Turner said. “I put a good swing on it.”
Turner guessed right. He also knew that Conley had some ownage on him. This is where the tables really Turner’d.
“I was trying to jump to the moon,” Matt Adams said about Turner’s grand slam. “But I didn’t get really high up.”
Conley would walk off the mound stunned as his stealth 1.42 ERA ballooned to 3.66 after giving up 5 earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning. He probably should have been pulled the instant Mark Reynolds entered the game, and on this night it was Mattingly who was out-coached as the tables were turned.
The Nationals would go on to score 14 unanswered runs, and the Marlins did mount a comeback attempt in the 8th inning where they hit a 3-run home run to cut the Nationals lead to two runs in a 14-to-12 game that looked like a Redskins-Dolphins football score. Sean Doolittle charged in like a middle linebacker and sacked the Marlins for the save while saving his team if this game went further. Daniel Murphy made the last out in the 8th inning which meant that Doolittle’s spot in the line-up would have come up in the bottom of the 9th inning if the Nationals had to bat. In all, Davey Martinez used 20 players in the game. The remaining players were Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Ryan Madson, and Matt Grace.
It’s a good thing the game ended when it did. In all, the Nationals managed 12 hits with 8 strategic walks. On this day, the Nationals hitters stayed with a plan and hustled and took their walks, and those free passes turned into key runs. That’s what Max Scherzer was talking about in the team meeting. Take what the game gives you, and hustle up.