Nats find way to win in extras after blowing late lead

HOUSTON - The Nationals were teetering on losing the series against the Astros after Stephen Strasburg had put together six scoreless frames.

Houston scored three runs on five hits in the final two innings to erase a 3-0 Nats lead.

But the Nats then managed to come up with two huge runs to down the Astros 5-4 in 11.

An Anthony Rendon sacrifice fly and a Matt Wieters RBI single gave the Nats a 5-3 lead in the 11th. J.D. Davis answered with a solo shot in the bottom of the inning, but Sammy Solís then recorded three outs in a row for his first save of the season. Matt Albers (7-2) pitched a scoreless 10th for the win.

Facing former Nats reliever Tyler Clippard, the 11th-inning rally was set up after Wilmer Difo opened with a bunt single. Difo, running on a pitch to Daniel Murphy, moved to second on a groundout.

Ryan Zimmerman got hit on a pitch from Clippard and went to first base. But a video replay review sent him back to the box to face Clippard down 0-2. Zimmerman swung and missed at the third strike, but the ball got away from catcher Brian McCann. On the wild pitch, Difo moved to third base and Zimmerman was safe at first.

“Yeah, I mean, hit me right on the finger,” Zimmerman said, pointing to a bruised finger. “I don’t know, I guess my hands are close to the bat and ended up working out better for us. Maybe it was karma or something, I don’t know. Just glad to get a good win and go home.”

Zimmerman-Headfirst-Dive-Gray-Sidebar.jpgRendon hit a sacrifice fly to medium left field to score Difo. Wieters followed with a single to the right-center field gap to score Zimmerman from first base. The Nats had a 5-3 lead heading to the bottom of the 11th. Solís managed to allow only one run to record the save and the Nats got out of Houston with the series win.

Manager Dusty Baker was concerned that Zimmerman might have been hurt when he was hit with the pitch.

“I could tell it hit him in the finger, but I don’t think they could tell from New York what happened,” Baker said. “His finger was all black and blue. I’m glad he did get called back. He struck out and the runner went to third, and that was a big sac fly by Anthony.”

After Zimmerman scored, he got up very slowly and walked back to the dugout. He said after the game he is banged up, but not injured, something a lot of his teammates are going through late in the season.

“I think everyone, it’s August, whatever it is,” Zimmerman said. “So everyone feels terrible right now. If you’ve been playing all year, no one feels good right now. This is the hardest part of the year and you have to keep going out there and playing.

“A win like this when guys aren’t feeling that great, and the bullpen a bunch of guys had to throw that probably didn’t feel great or warmed up and thrown the last couple days and to be able to kind of grind through this as a unit and get a win, it’s a good one.”

Zimmerman was asked whether it shows how resilient this team can be that he and Wieters were both able to score from first base in the game. His answer was hilarious.

“Don’t put me in the same category as (Wieters), scoring from first base,” Zimmerman smiled. “I love Matt, but I think maybe he would agree with that. But, yeah, it’s not ideal for me or Matt to score from first base, but it’s a big field, big gaps.”

Manager Dusty Baker pointed to the hustle of Zimmerman and Wieters, who scored from first on a fifth-inning double by Michael A. Taylor as a turning point.

“I think the abstract defense helped us some in that situation,” Baker said. “But those guys, they wanted to score. You have to give (third base coach) Bobby Henley a lot of credit for sending them. The only time the third base coach gets any notoriety is when a guy gets thrown out. But when the guy makes a great play, it goes unnoticed.

“But you have to give credit for the hustle to the baserunner and a lot of credit to the coach for taking that shot, and then when they miss the cutoff man, I knew they had a heck of a chance to score.”

Baker had made the interesting call to go with matchups in the final two innings. The Astros had a switch-hitter and two lefties due in the eighth. In the ninth, they had three right-handers due up. So Baker flipped Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler, calling on Doolittle in the eighth and Kintzler for the ninth.

“We thought about it and I liked the matchup,” Baker said. “I wanted to turn (Carlos) Beltrán around. He’s not as good right-handed now as he is left-handed. Just didn’t work.”

Kintzler was fine with a flip in responsibilities, and liked his matchups in either scenario. But this time, it didn’t pay off.

“Well, I have reverse splits,” Kintzler said. “I’m fine with facing whoever. I understand the trend to match up with Doolittle and then me with lefties and righties. I’ll face whoever, really. They’re trying to help get to 30 saves, which I really appreciate. Just didn’t work out.”

The Astros tied the game on back-to-back RBI base hits. But Kintzler then managed to strikeout Marwin Gonzalez, walked Beltrán and watched as Zimmerman make an outstanding play on a chopper up the first base line by Brian McCann to end the inning still tied.

“My main thing now, I got (to) at least hold us there so we can get an at-bat,” Kintzler said. “I do not want to get walked off. That’s the worst feeling. It’s two tough matchups right there with Beltrán, McCann and Gonzalez. I got to focus and buckle down right there. I threw a good slider to Gonzalez ..., (a) pitch that I feel like I need to bring out more. They were all over the fastball today, so I need to break that out.”

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