Aug 18, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Riding a season-high 6-game winning streak that included a weekend sweep of the contending Pirates, the Nationals opened a 4-game series against the non-contending Diamondbacks feeling mighty good about themselves. What they didn’t expect was a real battle against unknown Arizona left-hander Vidal Nuno, who went toe-to-toe with Jordan Zimmermann, and then a wild finish that left the crowd alternating between elation and dejection every couple of minutes.
Down 1-0 in the seventh, Wilson Ramos destroyed a 1-2 breaking ball from Nuno over the center-field fence, a 2-run homer that gave the Nationals the lead for the first time all night and brought what had been a lifeless ballpark back from the dead. That lead was short-lived, though, because Zimmermann immediately served up a 2-run homer to Didi Gregorius that put Arizona back on top.
The Nationals stormed right back against reliever Brad Ziegler, getting a double from Denard Span, a triple from Anthony Rendon and a sac fly from Jayson Werth that gave them the lead again. But Tyler Clippard, pitching the ninth after Rafael Soriano appeared four of the last five days, immediately blew the save, serving up a towering home run to David Peralta and ultimately sending this one to extra innings.
Craig Stammen nearly lost it in the top of the 11th, loading the bases with nobody out before somehow escaping the jam unscathed. That set the stage for Adam LaRoche to be the hero. LaRoche launched his sixth homer in 12 games to end this one in the bottom of the 11th. His first career walk-off homer gave the Nationals a 7-game winning streak, the last three of which have come in walk-off fashion.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The go-ahead rally in the eighth came exclusively from the top of the Nationals’ lineup, which has been so good all season. Span got things started with a one-out double to left-center. Rendon then followed with his RBI triple into the right-field corner. With the tying run on third, Werth did exactly what the situation called for and lined a ball to left fielder Mark Trumbo, who couldn’t throw home in time to get Rendon. A well-executed, impressive rally from three guys who have been there for the Nationals so many times this season.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: After Soriano blew his fifth save of the season Sunday and departed to a chorus of boos, fans wondered whether Matt Williams might decide it was time to make a change at closer. It was, but not a permanent change. Soriano got the night off to rest his arm (and perhaps mind) so it was Clippard getting the ball for the ninth. That quickly proved troublesome, though, when Peralta mashed his pitch off the facade of the second deck in right field. Maybe this closing thing isn’t quite as easy as everyone would hope.
KEY STAT: Total runs scored in innings 1-through-5 the last two days: 1. Total runs scored from the sixth inning on: 19.
UP NEXT: Game 2 of this 4-game series will see Stephen Strasburg trying to even his record at 10-10 against Arizona right-hander Chase Anderson. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
NLDS: NATIONALS VS. GIANTS
SAT: Game 2 at Washington, 5:37 p.m. (FS1)
MON: Game 3 at San Francisco, TBA (MLBN)
TUE: Game 4 at San Francisco, TBA (FS1)*
THU: Game 5 at Washington, TBA (FS1)*
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 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: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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