May 20, 2014, 1:30 AM EST
In a game that took four hours, 58 minutes and 15 innings to settle, the Nationals lost to the Reds on Monday night despite twice coming inches away from victory. Twice in extra innings they had would-be walk-off singles snatched out of the air on sensational defensive plays by the Reds.
The first was a diving grab by Brandon Phillips to end the 12th. With Denard Span on third and two outs, Wilson Ramos took the first pitch he saw from Manny Parra up the middle for a low line drive.
Span took off on contact and was close to scoring the winning run before Phillips leaped with full extension towards second base to secure the third out. Phillips laid on the ground for several moments after making the catch, apparently in disbelief himself.
“All you can do is hit it,” manager Matt Williams said. “Sometimes you wish you could steer it once you hit it, but that doesn’t happen.”
Instead of charging the field to celebrate the sudden death win, the Nationals played on and nearly won it again in the 14th inning.
With Logan Ondrusek pitching for Cincinnati, the Nationals saw Kevin Frandsen lead off with a double that landed on the foul line in left field. Frandsen then moved to third on a Span groundout.
Anthony Rendon came to the plate with two outs and, just like Ramos, made contact on the first pitch. This one was hit even harder and sailed into right-center field.
With Frandsen running home, and several Nats players getting ready to jump the dugout railing, Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton dove on a full sprint to make the catch and once again rip victory away from the Nationals to end an inning.
“I was probably about as surprised as you all were,” Rendon said. “I hit it good, I knew it. I knew he had a chance at catching it, but I was hoping it might die. It didn’t die.”
Both were exceptional defensive plays, both ended innings, and both kept the Reds alive in their eventual 4-3 victory. Afterwards, some Nationals could only tip their caps.
“You know Brandon’s done that year after year. It’s not like a first-time thing for him. And Billy, obviously with the speed he has, I think everyone in the stadium thought that was going to get down,” Frandsen said. “It’s a different element that you have to take into account. They made two great plays there.”
The 14th inning also saw a questionable decision made by Williams, one that he addressed after the marathon game. Once Frandsen led off with a double, he decided to first put pitcher Tanner Roark in the on-deck circle, then switch him for Jose Lobaton. Lobaton went up there looking to hit, instead of bunting Frandsen over, and ended up striking out swinging.
Williams had the option of using a pitcher to bunt and saving Lobaton – the last man on the Nationals’ bench – but explained his reasoning for using the switch-hitting catcher instead.
“We’ve got one guy left on the bench and we’ve gotta take our shot to win the game. You could bunt him to third, or try to bunt him to third with a pitcher, but Loby’s on the bench. We gotta take a shot. He hoped to get a ball over to the right side.”
The Reds broke through with a two-run home run by Todd Frazier in the top of the 15th, and held on despite an RBI single by Greg Dobbs in the bottom half of the inning to cut the lead to one. After taking a tough defeat, Williams was ready to look forward to Tuesday’s game.
“It’s the game, it’s the way it goes,” he said. “There were opportunities out there, we just didn’t come through.”
You can watch both Phillips’ and Hamilton’s catches here via MLB.com:
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