In this 5-game wrap-around series with the Mets, the Nats had three walk-off opportunities with a runner on third base and less than one out — and they capitalized on just one of those golden tickets. Better late than never as the Nats got the walk-off winner today to head on a happy flight from D.C. to Atlanta.
Sometimes baseball does not give you a second chance, but sometimes it does. Carpé diem — sieze the day. Carter Kieboom came up to bat for his second chance, facing the same closer, Edwin Diaz, with the Mets who schooled Kieboom on Friday night. Diaz made quick work of him on three pitches for the strikeout just three nights ago. This afternoon, Kieboom was ready for him and shot a 70.7 mph grounder up the middle that Met’s shortstop, Francisco Lindor, lunged for and the ball clanked off of his Rawlings glove and pinballed past second baseman Javy Baez into centerfield for the game winning single. Redemption is sweet.
“It’s pretty hard to describe, honestly,” Kieboom said. “To swing the bats the way we did all week and to come up short [before], and then to finally pull one out there at the end — it’s awesome.”
On Friday, Kieboom swung and missed on a slider outside near the dirt for the strikeout, so Diaz went with the same slider away and out of the zone for a swing and miss strike 1 today, then doubled-up and threw another, and this time Kieboom was ready for it and reached for it and poked it up the middle.
“I thought about the last time I had faced him, and he started me off with fastballs,” he tried to recall. “Actually, [coach] Randy Knorr and I discussed it, and we were like, ‘Maybe he’s going to start you out with sliders this time.’ He hit it right on the head with it. He was dead on.”
Fortunately, there was no doubleplay and the ball eluded the webbing of Lindor’s glove. They say it is a game of inches, and we saw it again — and this time to the benefit of the Washington Nationals.
It was the first walk-off hit of Kieboom’s 85-game career. Some players go an entire career without a walk-off hit. On Friday night, the infielder had a chance to walk-off on his birthday. Three days belated and almost as special.
“[With] their infield in . . . the best-case scenario is you hit a home run, or you hit one deep into the outfield,” said Kieboom. “You try to stay away from the corners, and you try to play into the middle of the field of some sort. Once I saw it get past Diaz, I knew chances were in my favor.”
But Soto fouled out on a first-pitch fastball. That passed the torch to the batters below Soto in the batting order to be the walk-off hero. Josh Bell followed with a walk, putting two runners on second and first base, and Andrew Stevenson stepped in as the pinch-hitter.
We know the scouting reports that Stevo is a sucker for breaking pitches inside and low. Diaz executed on two straight sliders for strikes one and two on Stevenson and tried to fool him on a fastball that he fouled off. In the 0-2 count on the fourth pitch, the Mets closer went back to the slider low-and-in and somehow the pinch-hitter extraordinaire barreled it up enough for a line drive single at 108.2 mph to score Escobar and collar Diaz with another blown save. The ball was hit so hard that Escobar barely slid ahead of a throw that was video challenged by the Mets’ manager.
“I try to just mellow out,” Stevenson said. “The bigger spots — the way I kind of look at it is, the pitcher, he’s in more of a jam than I am, for the most part so in that situation, it’s to my advantage, so I shouldn’t be the one feeling the pressure here — it should be on the pitcher.”
On Saturday, it was Stevenson who capped the 9-run comeback with a two out game tying homer off Seth Lugo. Unfortunately, that comeback fell short to win that game when Gerardo Parra struck-out with a runner on third base and one out. Another of those weekend opportunities to walk-off that did not happen.
Maybe this goes to third time is the charm. But mostly this particular walk-off can be attributed to both Escobar and Bell not forcing anything and taking their walks while moving the line. Stevenson showed that he could hit that inside and low breaking pitch, and Kieboom was ready for the slider away.
But none of this happens if starter Patrick Corbin and reliever Kyle Finnegan didn’t do their jobs to keep the game close. Corbin gave up three runs over seven innings which is progress for him, and Finnegan pitched two scoreless innings to get the 3-2 game into the bottom of the ninth inning. Close enough for the Nats to come back and win.
For the offense, they were just 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position before the ninth inning and this looked like it could be just another loss deflated in frustration with so many blown opportunities.
“I wanted to see anybody get mobbed in a victory,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “But I’m glad it was him today.”
With as much frustration as Kieboom has had in his career, and the calls to question his lack of “clutch” he just helped himself in the small sample sizes of his career where he had a “high leverage” statline of just .194/ .235/ .194/ .429 before his walk-off single. Kieboom has actually been good in the ninth inning but mostly when the game has been out of reach in one direction or another, and we saw his previous failure on Friday night in the ninth inning. That hi lev batting average is now .219. We can only hope this success for the 24-year-old puts him on a new trajectory in his career.