Harper’s clutch hit propels Nats to 6-5 win in 10 innings

The Nationals waited 10 innings to produce their first hit with a man in scoring position all night. The wait was worth it.

Bryce Harper’s laser of a single to the warning track in right field brought home Trea Turner from third base and gave the Nationals a 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Reds to cap a night that included plenty of frustrating moments but ended in jubilation for the home team.

Harper-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpgThe Nationals had been 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position throughout the game, squandering several opportunities to win their series opener. But they only needed one, the one provided at the end by Harper.

On a night in which Stephen Strasburg labored through five sweaty innings - not getting much help from his defense along the way - the Nationals clawed their way back from a 5-1 deficit. They did so with a bunch of solo homers, including a pair from the suddenly potent Brian Goodwin.

And thanks to a bunch of zeroes from their bullpen, they kept themselves in position to win the game with a walk-off.

After failed attempts in the eighth and ninth, the Nationals finally struck gold in the 10th, but not until there already were two outs. Trea Turner’s two-strike single to right off Raisel Iglesias gave the Nats a chance. Goodwin’s subsequent single to right moved Turner to third and gave them an even better chance.

Harper worked the count full, then lined a drive over right fielder Scott Schebler’s head, bringing home Turner and bringing the entire Nationals dugout onto the field in celebration.

On a sweltering Friday night in which the dew point registered 74 and the heat index reached 95, Strasburg found himself pitching in trouble right away. Reds No. 2 batter Scooter Gennett - who recently became the unlikeliest member of the exclusive four-homer-game club - launched a solo shot to right to put his team up early.

Then came four hits and a walk leading to three more runs, all of them charged to Strasburg though not all of them entirely his fault. Joey Votto’s single was a weak grounder toward second that might’ve been an out if not for Daniel Murphy being shifted well to the pull side. And Adam Duvall’s bloop double to right-center probably should have been caught by the center fielder. Except for the fact the Nationals’ center fielder tonight had never played center field in the big leagues.

Wilmer Difo, an infielder his whole life, saw sporadic playing time in the outfield this spring and again earlier this week at Triple-A Syracuse, just in case he was needed. Well, with Michael A. Taylor sidelined for the second straight game with an injury the Nationals will not specify, the club called up Difo this afternoon and decided to throw him right into the fire.

And sure enough, in his first inning in the field, Difo was late to get to Duvall’s blooper to right-center, leaving it to Harper to try to make a more difficult play (he couldn’t, prolonging the inning).

Difo had trouble again in the top of the third, getting a late break on Devin Mesoraco’s shallow fly ball and letting it fall for an RBI single that accounted for the Reds’ fifth run off Strasburg.

Strasburg pitched out of trouble a couple more times before departing after five innings, his pitch count already at 95, his jersey soaked with sweat.

By that time, the Nationals had scored two runs to get to within striking distance, thanks to solo homers by Goodwin and Anthony Rendon. Murphy’s line drive into the right field bullpen (the 100th home run of his career) made it 5-3 in the sixth, and some small ball featuring a walk, a single and two sacrifices trimmed the deficit to 5-4.

That set the stage for Goodwin to deliver his second big blast of the night, shortly after he had shifted to center field, with Difo taking a seat and Ryan Raburn taking over in left field. Goodwin’s leadoff homer in the seventh off left-hander Wandy Peralta left this game tied and left the rookie’s home run total both for the month and for his big league career at six.

The game remained tied thanks to two scoreless innings from Blake Treinen and one key out from Drew Storen (now pitching for the Reds). The former Nationals closer, in his return to D.C. nearly two years after he last pitched here, was greeted by a mixture of standing applause, boos and “Drews” from the crowd of 36,347 before retiring Rendon on a flyball to right.

Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani also pitched out of a two-on, no-out jam in the eighth, striking out Adam Lind and Turner and getting Goodwin to popup.

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