The Nationals swept the New York Mets with Thursday's win, but on Wednesday night, the Nats came close to blowing a late lead to their National League East rivals.
Jordan Zimmermann and the first two members of the Nationals' "A" 'pen, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, handed a 3-1 lead to closer Rafael Soriano, but the veteran right-hander struggled with his command after a couple of days off waiting for a save opportunity.
A 2-2 fastball up in the zone to Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud ended up in the left field seats in Citi Field as New York pulled within one and singles by Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores, with a botched bunt attempt between them, put runners on first and third with one down.
"Just the ball up in the zone. Just up, middle," Nationals manager Matt Williams said when asked about Soriano's struggles. "The homer was, he missed location and both base hits up the middle he missed location, so just a little off. Regular work is key for guys, but sometimes in the closer role you don't get it, so we were able to hold on."
The Nats did hold on, but only after a controversial call that once again highlighted the ambiguous nature of the new rules regarding plays at the plate.
den Dekker took third on the single by Flores and pinch-runner Eric Young Jr., who took over for Flores at first, stole second to put two runners in scoring position with one down, taking away the chance of an easy game-ending double play.
The Nationals' first-year skipper brought his infielders in and with pinch-hitter Eric Campbell up, Soriano got the grounder the Nats wanted. Campbell sent an 0-1 pitch out to short, where Ian Desmond fielded it coming in and threw home to Wilson Ramos. The throw pulled Ramos to his left and into the basepath, but he appeared to give den Dekker a lane as he tagged the runner out.
Home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater punched den Dekker out, and after a review requested by Mets manager Terry Collins, the ruling was upheld.
"Four hours ago, he's safe," Collins said after the game, referring to a play at the plate in the White Sox-Giants game earlier Wednesday afternoon that was overturned with the runner originally ruled out then called safe when it was decided that catcher Tyler Flowers blocked Gregor Blanco's path. "As we saw on the TV tonight. Four hours later he's out, so I don't know what to say."
Unlike Ramos, Flowers did appear to start in the basepath and move more to his left, blocking the path completely.
Collins believed den Dekker did everything right.
"No doubt, absolutely," Collins said. "You've got to challenge him. We're tying the game, we've still got a guy in scoring position.
"As a matter of fact, we still have (Curtis Granderson) coming up, we're still in the same certain situation. He did absolutely right, did the same thing, slid straight in, didn't try to go around the catcher, did it all right."
The out call was upheld after a 90-second review, but the play was only possible because the Nationals' drawn-in infield gave them the opportunity.
"I was very surprised, I really was," Collins said when asked about Williams' gamble, "but Matt knows what he's doing and they got the ground ball they needed.
"They're halfway," Williams explained. "They're not all the way in. We want to give them some range, because a base hit loses the game for you, so (Desmond) made a nice play, came and got the ball and threw a strike to Wilson at the plate."
As the rules regarding plays at the plate read, Ramos appeared to do things correctly.
"Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball," the language of Rule 7.13 reads, "the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe."
Ramos gave den Dekker a path to the plate until the throw pulled him into the line, but even then he tagged the runner with a sweeping motion and stepped out of the lane as den Dekker slid in.
"The throw took him there," Williams said. "Wilson set up and the throw takes him into the runner. I think that the fact that he swipe-tagged him and kind of got out of the way. He could have, ordinarily a catcher can in past years just sits down on the plate and the guy can't get past him, but he gave him some space and swipe-tagged him out."
Ramos gave the runner a path to the plate. Flowers, who was a few inches farther to the left and in the path when he received a throw from first, did appear to block the baserunner's path. It should be fun in the postseason when a nationally televised game is inevitably decided this way.
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. Follow him on Twitter: @federalbaseball. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.