NEW YORK - They waited much of the night for somebody - anybody - to deliver the big hit that would break a game that had been deadlocked far too long. In the end, who better to deliver that hit for the Nationals against the Mets than Daniel Murphy?
Murphy’s leadoff homer in the top of the 10th lifted the Nats to a 4-3 victory and added yet another chapter to his lengthy book of damage inflicted against his former team.
Murphy’s blast to center field off right-hander Jacob Rhame was his ninth in 37 games against New York over the last two seasons. He also added a double (his 13th in those 37 games) and raised his RBI total against the Mets to 35.
Murphy has shied away from making a big deal out of his domination of the franchise that employed him for 10 years but made little effort to re-sign him as a free agent two winters ago. Those around him every day, though, know what these performances mean to the veteran second baseman, especially when they help him get back on track after a recent slide.
“He’s been struggling a little bit,” manager Dusty Baker said. “This was his prior home, and I’m sure he has a lot of friends and people here, a lot of memories. It’s always good to come back to where you had success.”
This particular Murphy moment at Citi Field couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nationals, who had rallied early in the game to tie things up at 3-3 but then squandered several opportunities to complete the rally, putting pressure on their bullpen to pitch flawless ball in relief of Stephen Strasburg.
After holding Strasburg to five innings, the Nationals needed lights-out work from all of their relievers. And they got it, with Matt Albers, Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sammy Solís each tossing a scoreless frame to keep the game tied 3-3 and give their lineup a chance to score the go-ahead run.
“Albers has been doing it all year,” Baker said. “And Sammy, when healthy, is to me top of the line because he can get righties and lefties out. That shortens the game.”
After going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, with five of the six outs coming via strikeout, the Nationals finally delivered with nobody on base via Murphy’s homer, which came off a rookie reliever he’d never faced before.
“We have video in the dugout,” Murphy said. “So I like to see his last outing, just to kind of see what the pitches do. And I wanted to take one, just to get an idea what the ball is going to do.”
Murphy wound up battling his way though a six-pitch at-bat against Rhame, finally connecting on a 2-2 slider over the plate for his 23rd homer and 90th RBI of the season. Sean Doolittle then pitched the bottom of the 10th to record his 20th save in as many chances since his July acquisition.
Strasburg wasn’t as sharp tonight as he typically has been during his dominant late-summer. Then again, it would be hard for anybody to maintain that level of dominance (35 consecutive scoreless innings).
He pitched out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the first. He wasn’t as successful in a third inning that included four hits and a walk, with three of the Mets’ baserunners coming around to touch the plate and give their team a 3-0 lead. Strasburg, who appeared to have trouble running the bases in the top of the inning but showed no ill effects while pitching, quickly bounced back and retired seven straight batters to get through the fifth on 83 total pitches.
“I think, like, the first inning there I kind of was in a jam and was able to get out of it,” he said. “But you don’t really know when it’s going to show itself. That first inning ended up being pretty big.”
Strasburg might normally have returned to the mound for the sixth, but the Nationals decided to call it a night right there and not push the right-hander any further. It was a bit of a curious move, though at this point the club’s stated goal is simply to ensure Strasburg is healthy for the postseason, even if that means dialing him back a bit during his final regular-season starts.
“We’re just trying to limit things,” Baker said. “We just thought it was time. We thought that was enough.”
By the time he departed, Strasburg’s teammates had taken him off the hook for a loss. They tied the game via a pair of blasts off Matt Harvey, who was in the unusual position of starting his outing in the top of the second after Noah Syndergaard (in his first appearance since pulling a lat muscle April 30) completed the top of the first on five pitches and departed.
Adam Lind provided the first blast, a two-run shot to left-center, the 14th homer of his season and 200th of his career. That also was the Nationals’ 204th home run of the season, establishing a new franchise record.
And that record was extended only one inning later when Matt Wieters sent a solo shot to right-center, his first homer in more than a month but 10th of the season. That gives the Nationals nine players with at least 10 home runs this year, most in club history.
And on this night, it made a come-from-behind victory possible.
“Usually the team that scores first wins,” Baker said. “They jumped us 3-0. But the fact that we came back and kept grinding is what I liked most.”