May 20, 2014, 12:04 AM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: You never know what kind of ballgame you might see on a random Monday night in May. The 24,505 who came to Nationals Park tonight — or, at least, those who made it all the way to the end — were treated to one of the best-played, back-and-forth, dramatic, random Monday night games in May they’ll ever see.
The Reds pushed across two runs against Stephen Strasburg, who was hurt by a couple of uncharacteristic hit-by-pitches but battled through some tough situations and notched some big outs. Mike Leake, meanwhile, carried a shutout into the seventh inning until Nate McLouth and Denard Span combined to bring home the Nationals’ first run of the night and cut the deficit to 2-1.
The Reds have had the NL’s worst bullpen this season, while the Nationals have boasted the majors’ most-productive lineup from the seventh inning on, and those reputations held true for most of the night. The Nats scratched out the tying run off the imposing Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to Danny Espinosa’s double and subsequent flyballs from Kevin Frandsen and Scott Hairston.
That sent the game to extra innings, where Rafael Soriano escaped a jam in the top of the 10th thanks to a whopper of a play at third base by Anthony Rendon and then a catch at the warning track in left by Frandsen. Drew Storen had to escape a jam of his own in the top of the 11th, striking out Ryan Ludwick with the go-ahead run on third thanks to a beautiful changeup. The Nationals set the stage for a winning rally in the bottom of the 12th, and Wilson Ramos thought he delivered a walk-off single up the middle … only to be stone-cold robbed by Brandon Phillips. Two innings later, Billy Hamilton robbed Rendon of a game-winning hit with a diving catch in center that left the Nats bench stunned.
Try as they might to keep pitching perfect baseball, the Nationals’ relief corps just couldn’t hang on forever. Ross Detwiler served up a two-run homer to Todd Frazier in the top of the 15th, snapping a ridiculous, 27 2/3-innings scoreless streak by this bullpen. The Nats managed to score one run in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t produce the second run needed to keep this fantastic ballgame for a random Monday night in May going on.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It takes something special to take down Chapman in the bottom of the ninth, but the Nationals are perhaps as well-equipped as anyone to do it. Espinosa, Frandsen and Hairston all hit lefties well, and they showed it during their game-tying rally. Espinosa turned on a 99-mph fastball and roped it down the left-field line for a double. Frandsen then sent a 100-mph fastball to deep left-center, advancing Espinosa to third. Hairston finished it off by lofting another 99-mph fastball to deep left field, allowing Espinosa to easily score the run that gave the Nationals new life.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: This was an odd outing by Strasburg, though by no means a poor one. The Reds put a man in scoring position in all seven innings he was on the mound, yet only two scored. And each of those reached base when hit by a Strasburg pitch. All things considered, the right-hander did a nice job escaping a whole lot of jams, with Cincinnati going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position through the game’s first three innings. Strasburg also was well aware of Billy Hamilton’s baserunning antics and deftly quick-pitched when the speedster tried to steal home in the seventh. Strasburg didn’t get the win tonight, but he pitched well enough to earn it.
KEY STAT: With 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings before Frazier’s homer, the Nationals bullpen briefly held a collective 1.97 ERA, best in the majors.
UP NEXT: Johnny Cueto hasn’t been getting a whole lot of attention this year, but he deserves it. The Reds right-hander is 4-2 with a 1.25 ERA and is the first pitcher in modern MLB history to throw at least seven innings and allow five or fewer hits in his first nine starts of a season. So that’s quite a challenge for the Nats at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday night. Doug Fister, who was excellent last time out in Arizona, will need to be in top form once again.
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