Boy, what a wild one that was.
The Pirates made three errors in the first inning. The Nationals had a four-run inning after failing to score more than two runs in five of their last six games. Davey Johnson was ejected. The Nats blew a four-run ninth-inning lead. Bryce Harper hit his first career walk-off homer, snapping a six-game losing streak.
Yeah, wild would describe it.
Bench coach Randy Knorr inherited managerial duties in the fifth inning of today’s rollercoaster game when Johnson was ejected, and he needed to make a tough decision in the top of the ninth inning, with the Nationals clinging to a lead and Rafael Soriano struggling mightily.
Soriano, the Nats’ $28 million closer, allowed two hits and two walks to the first five hitters he faced, and instead of trusting the veteran right-hander with 157 career saves to work out of the jam, Knorr decided he’d seen enough. He pulled Soriano for left-hander Ian Krol, a 22-year-old without a major league save.
“Well, you know, I was watching him pitch, and in the past, I’ve seen him pitch and when it’s not a save opportunity, he doesn’t have the same affect when he’s pitching,” Knorr said of Soriano. “He wasn’t throwing the ball over the plate and a couple lefties were coming up. I like the way Krol throws the ball.
“Figured if you don’t want to be in that mode to shut the game down, I’ll bring somebody else in.”
The call ended up not working out in the Nats’ favor, as Krol allowed a two-run, game-tying single to Josh Harrison that knotted the game at 7-7 after it had been 7-3 entering the frame. But the Nats ended up celebrating just a few minutes later anyway, after Harper hit a 1-1 Bryan Morris slider out to left-center for his first career walk-off homer.
Instead of suffering their seventh straight loss in crushing fashion, the Nats got to enjoy a win for the first time in 11 days.
“Well we actually needed to shut it down in the top of the ninth, but that was huge,” Knorr said. “Harper was great. (Morris is) a pretty good pitcher out there and (Kurt Suzuki) gets the base hit, (Roger Bernadina) beats out the double play ball and Harper gets a good pitch to hit. And that’s what we need right now. There’s been a lot of excitement, ups and downs, but we get high and then we get low really fast. I think this is big for us.
“That would’ve been tough to overcome. To tell you how it feels, just walking into the clubhouse right now, you’d think we won the World Series or something. But that’s the way the game is right now. And hopefully this carries over for us. I think we’re going to get on a roll here. I think it was a big game for us.”
Gio Gonzalez had a shaky start, allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings, striking out 11 but walking four and throwing 119 pitches, the second-most he’s thrown in a game this season.
“Gio’s got great stuff,” Knorr said. “His manerisms out there sometimes it’s hard to tell what mood he’s in. He did the best he can with what he had today. He kept us in the ballgame and that’s all we ask our starters to do. We don’t ever ask them to go out and throw a shutout. Just keep the game close and we’ll try to win it towards the end.”
The Nats had played really poorly lately, but they hadn’t gotten many breaks, either. Today, they did, taking an early 4-0 lead thanks to the Pirates errors, and they needed every one of those runs later.
“Yeah I think that was huge, just by what you say about breaks,” Knorr said. “We didn’t get many this year. Every once in a while, one shows up, but that got us going a little bit. I think everybody finally said, ‘OK, great, we finally got some balls going our way.’ The dugout atmosphere, everything was really good today, and I think it kept everybody in the game.”