By Jesse Dougherty Jesse Dougherty Reporter covering the Washington Nationals. Email Bio Follow May 4 at 11:32 PM PHILADELPHIA — When a team is on its last legs, when everything seems to be falling out of its favor, it will take whatever it can get, whenever it can get it.
That was the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, already down four starting position players, then down two more by the fourth inning of a 10-8 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. If the Nationals had any more injuries, or looked any less like they intended to, they would be near impossible to recognize without their hats and jerseys on. Or they’d be too few to play.
But the Nationals had just enough punches for the Phillies on Saturday, even after Philadelphia’s five-run seventh inning pushed them into a three-run hole. Washington erased that deficit with a pinch-hit, three-run homer by Kurt Suzuki — one of two available bench players at that point — and Victor Robles followed with a solo shot to right.
That was the comeback formula in a game stacked against the Nationals from the start. That was how they improved to 14-18, inching closer to .500, and earned a chance to win this series at 2:05 p.m. Sunday.
Way back in the spring, and way before the Nationals fell face-first into the season, Manager Dave Martinez was often asked to look into the future. That is the default conversation in February and March — to project goals and cling to optimism while the slate’s still clean. Martinez’s answers almost always began the same way.
How could the Nationals rebound from a disappointing 2018 season? By staying healthy. How could a veteran lineup and stacked rotation reach its potential? By avoiding the injured list. What was his plan for Ryan Zimmerman or Adam Eaton or Anthony Rendon? To keep them on the field. Martinez would then knock on his wooden desk or his head or whatever signified good luck. After last year, after Washington was cut down by injuries at every turn, he couldn’t leave anything to chance.
But fast-forward to Saturday, and through just a month and change, none of those superstitions worked. Left fielder Juan Soto was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday with back spasms. He joined three other starters: Trea Turner, Rendon and Zimmerman. Turner has a broken right index finger. Rendon is out with an elbow contusion. Zimmerman is back in Washington recovering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. And two right-handed relievers — Trevor Rosenthal and Austen Williams — are on the shelf, too.
Yet baseball seasons don’t wait for teams to recover. They don’t care if you’re banged-up, or how young your replacements are, or if your bullpen took until late April to get outs consistently. They just keep going and going, and they make you choose between keeping up and giving up as the schedule shrinks and the stakes raise. Then they spit you into another game against the first-place Phillies, with a lineup thinned to three Opening Day starters, and with a chance to fold again or figure it out.
Then you lose two additional players, and it feels like bad luck has no mercy. Matt Adams, Zimmerman’s fill-in at first, dived to stop a sharp grounder with no outs in the second inning. He dived again to tag the base before the Phillies’ Phil Gosselin reached it. Three batters later, Jean Segura hit a sinking liner to center, and Michael A. Taylor laid out to make the catch. He couldn’t, his left wrist hit the field, and then it bent awkwardly as he crumpled to the grass. Adams left with a jammed shoulder. Taylor’s early diagnosis was a jammed wrist. Both are scheduled to have MRI exams Sunday.
By the time Taylor exited, before the bottom of the fourth, the Nationals were down to two bench players and the score was tied at 2. The Nationals had struck first when Howie Kendrick bounced into a double play but scored Eaton. The Phillies got that run right back when Segura singled, Bryce Harper doubled him to third and J.T. Realmuto scored him with a sacrifice fly. After Segura’s second-inning double put Philadelphia ahead, the Nationals tied it at 2 on Brian Dozier’s solo homer in the third.
The teams traded runs thereafter, and the Phillies pushed Nationals starter Patrick Corbin to the brink in the sixth. There were runners on second and third when Martinez visited Corbin on the mound, and the left-hander was at 108 pitches. But Martinez kept him in, Corbin struck out pinch hitter Cesar Hernandez on three pitches, and then he punched out Andrew McCutchen looking with his 118th offering of the night.
Corbin clenched his fist and screamed as he walked off the mound. Washington, for a moment, jumped back ahead in the seventh by scoring twice without hitting the ball out of the infield. But the Phillies responded with five runs in six batters against reliever Joe Ross. Ross, in order, served up a single, walk, RBI double, two-run double, then got one out, then gave up two more run-scoring doubles before he was hooked.
The damage put the Nationals on life support with six outs to work with. Yet Suzuki and Robles had other plans. Suzuki’s blast, on a 1-0 change-up from Adam Morgan, just cleared the left field wall. Robles’s, off Morgan’s 1-0 sinker, landed in the first row of the right field seats. Washington added a critical insurance run, on a Yan Gomes single in the ninth, and closer Sean Doolittle worked in and out of a jam to finish it in the bottom half.
Infielder Adrián Sanchez, the Nationals’ final bench player, ended the game playing left field for the first time in his major league career. Starter Max Scherzer pinch-hit with the bases loaded in the ninth and grounded out. It was the necessary path to victory — however winding, however weird, however taxing — and the Nationals will wake up Sunday morning and stare down another game. A team on its last healthy legs will take it.
LINK ORIGINAL: Washington Post