In the most improbable of wins while down 7-2 heading into the 9th inning, the Washington Nationals pulled off the shocker in a 6-run walk-off Curly W. It is like choreographing a complex finish to a Disney movie where fiction gets you to a feel-good ending — only this really happened — and two games in a row with walk-off wins and the fourth since July 26. Last year, the Nats did not have a walk-off win through August of that disappointing season, and they now have five this season. And as Nats’ radio broadcaster, Charlie Slowes says to the fans who left the stadium before the game ended, “If you left early, YOU BLEW IT!”
This Nats team had a huge hole dug early as starter Trevor Williams gave up five earnies over 4 1/3 innings, and the bullpen and defense kept it closer than it should have been with some great plays like that defensive gem at the plate to gun down a runner (pictured above) to end the 7th inning. Stone Garrett could have given up and jogged to the double in the corner, but he hustled and that play kept it from being an 8-2 game.
With a 7-2 deficit starting the bottom of the 9th inning, it took 10-batters starting with Jeter Downs‘ lead-off walk (the dreaded LoW), and ending with Downs as the lineup turned over to win it. Downs had never had a hit or RBI, in a Nats uniform, and his walk to start the inning, and his walk-off RBI single to end the game only happened because with a 7-2 deficit, manager Dave Martinez decided to get CJ Abrams off of his feet as his back was barking. In stepped Downs as the improbable hero, and his walk-off technically moved the Nats into fourth place in the NL East at the moment just by .001 in winning percentage as Washington now has a 53-66 record with a .445 winning percentage. This team is now on a 72-win pace.
That win probability chart does not even tell the whole story about this game or the Oakland A’s. That team, in their entire history, had never lost a game with at least a 5-run lead in the 9th inning since moving to Oakland in 1968. That is 55-years of games.
BABIP is an acronym for Batting Average [on] Balls In Play. The Nats were no-hit just five games before this game, and the Nationals went .000 in BABIP on 22-balls put in-play. That is extreme bad luck. Today, it was a 185 foot doinker that found outfield grass for the walk-off winner. That is BABIP luck because as Alex Call can tell you from that no-hitter was that he lined a ball on a rope with an exit velo of 104.6 mph with an xBA (expected batting average) of .590, and the ball was caught 336 feet from homeplate. As Ryan Zimmerman infamously said in 2019 that sometimes you need “lucky bounces.” Yep. League average BABIP is .296, and the Nats are 10th in the Majors at .302. You put 22-ball in-play you should end up with 6.64 hits in that no-hit game. Unlucky. Today, lucky at a .438 BABIP. Those are the two extremes of how games change with balls put in-play.
Downs wasn’t sure if it was going to be caught. The ball came off of his bat with an exit velo of only 69.3 mph. The pitch was inside and robo-ump would have called it ball 4, but Downs swung and made enough contact and a 25 degree launch angle to get it over the Oakland A’s shortstop. Downs, before this game, had a career MLB batting average of .143. On July 9 of last year, he had a game tying single that helped lead to a walk-off win for his team at that time. That team, the Red Sox, optioned him back to the minors just 19-days after that big hit.
Baseball cheers you on and can spit you out if you don’t contribute on a more regular basis. This was Downs first walk-off hit of his career. Maybe the former top prospect of the Reds will make this walk-off into a springboard to better things. On this day, he will forever be part of a Nats classic.
As they say with BABIP, your batting average is zero on a strikeout. You put a ball into play — and you have a chance. Just like Call who batted before Downs, he hit a 93.8 mph hard grounder that the shortstop booted, and that led to two unearned runs scoring and a tied 7-7 game. Did we mention there were two outs at the time? Call’s grounder, if fielded, would have ended the game at 7-5, and it would have been an A’s win.
This was a game of the “little things” as Martinez preaches all of the time. Each part of the game, and particularly the 9th inning points to the high leverage execution by the Nats, and the mistakes by the A’s. One team celebrates while the other walks away in despair. The local kid from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Zack Gelof, hit two home runs as part of his four hit day — and he would have been the hero today if his team won. Instead, he could only watch from a few feet away as his double play partner, Nick Allen, booted that Call grounder.
The Nats have lost some tough games this season also, like that May 16 heartbreaker in Miami. Baseball is cruel. It is a game of what have you done for me lately? That’s what ended Downs’ time with the Red Sox, after he didn’t do enough for long enough. The former 1st round pick of 2017 by the Reds, was part of two blockbuster trades with the Dodgers. One in a package with Josiah Gray, from the Reds to the Dodgers, and then with other players from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts trade. But the Red Sox DFA’d Downs just two days before Christmas Eve last year, and he was claimed by the Nats. Guess who the Nats face on Tuesday: The Boston Red Sox.