Sep 22, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT
Game in a nutshell: A long and emotional day at the ballpark began with a tribute to Davey Johnson (managing for the last time at Nationals Park), continued with a frustrating, 4-2 loss by the home team in the doubleheader opener. The Reds’ win in Pittsburgh left the Nats’ season on life support heading into the nightcap, but they responded by taking a 4-3 lead into the eighth inning thanks to Stephen Strasburg’s quality start and Denard Span’s two-run single. But Tyler Clippard gave up back-to-back doubles in the top of the eighth, leaving this game tied and very much up in the air. To the rescue came Jayson Werth, who led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Eury Perez pinch-ran for Werth and wound up on the front end of a double-steal. Wilson Ramos then tagged a sharp grounder to third, which Chris Coghlan booted to bring the winning run home. Thus, the Nationals hit the road for the final week of the season, trailing by the Reds and Pirates by five games with six to play. They need a miracle, but they are still mathematically alive.
Hitting highlight: It actually occurred on the bases, not at the plate, but it still counts as an offensive highlight, so we’ll commend Ian Desmond for swiping second base in the bottom of the seventh and in the process notching his second consecutive 20-20 season. Desmond truly has blossomed into one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball, combining power, speed and spectacular defense like few others at his position. Only one other player in Nationals history has recorded one 20-20 season: Alfonso Soriano, who of course doubled Desmond’s feat and went 40-40 in 2006.
Pitching highlight: Making his first start in 14 days, Strasburg took the mound with at least some semblance of uncertainty surrounding him. And that uncertainty was probably justified, given the long layoff due to forearm tightness. Strasburg did look rusty, especially early on. He gave up leadoff hits in his first three innings, including a double to Donovan Solano and a homer to Justin Ruggiano. He did find his groove as the night wore on, though, and along the way recorded the 500th strikeout of his career. He reached that milestone in only 426 1/3 innings, faster than all but two pitchers in MLB history: Kerry Wood (404 2/3) and Mark Prior (421 2/3). Those aren’t necessarily names any young pitcher wants to be associated with, considering the manner in which each career was derailed by arm injuries. But a full three years removed now from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg certainly appears healthy and poised to continue his ascension next season.
Key stat: The Nationals’ total attendance this season was 2,652,422 (an average of 32,746). That’s the most in the six-year history of Nationals Park, but slightly below the 2,731,993 total from the inaugural 2005 season at RFK Stadium.
Up next: The home portion of their season now complete, the Nationals head out for a 6-game road trip to wrap things up. It begins at 8:15 p.m. Monday in St. Louis when Tanner Roark tries to improve to 8-0 in his career. Ace Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals.
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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