Nats’ furious rally wasted after Doolittle blows first save (updated)

They got the gutsiest effort of the season from Max Scherzer. They got a furious, four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth to give themselves a lead for the first time tonight. But the Nationals could not get the final three outs from Sean Doolittle before giving the lead back to the Dodgers.

And because of all that, the Nats trudged off the field at Nationals Park this evening having suffered one of their most agonizing losses of the season, a 5-4 defeat to cap a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Dodgers on a miserable day that also saw Howie Kendrick lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“This was just a great, competitive ballgame from both teams,” Scherzer said. “We did a good job of competing. We were down early, found a way to rally, scored and got the lead. They competed and found a way to win the game.”

doolittle-blown-save-side.jpgDoolittle had been a perfect 9-for-9 in save situations to begin the season, and he was 30-of-31 since the Nationals acquried him last July. But the left-hander immediately got into trouble in the top of the ninth, giving up singles to Austin Barnes and Logan Forsythe. Veteran Matt Kemp then delivered the big blow: a two-run double into the left field corner to turn a one-run lead into a one-run deficit.

And when they couldn’t produce a last-ditch rally against Kenley Jansen, the Nats were left to suffer their second loss in 9 1/2 hours. Winners in 13-of-15 games before rain and scheduled off-days prevented them from playing a complete game for five days, they’ve now dropped two in a row to a previously reeling Dodgers club.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Doolittle said. “Because that would’ve been such a big win for us on a day losing the first one, losing Howie, Max digging deep for us ... that’s frustrating.”

The end result certainly wasn’t Scherzer’s fault. The ace was again fantastic, despite two early runs allowed. He walked off the mound after the top of the sixth with his pitch count at 108 and convinced manager Davey Martinez to let him take the mound again in the top of the seventh.

“He was adamant,” Martinez said. “We have conversations, and he came in and said: ‘I’m 1,000 percent good to go.’”

First, though, the Nationals needed to rally from a 2-0 deficit.

They did it via a furious rally, which was ignited by Mark Reynolds’ RBI double into the left field corner. After Dodgers manager Dave Roberts elected to intentionally walk Michael A. Taylor and instead have right-hander Daniel Hudson face Pedro Severino, Martinez countered by sending Matt Adams to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Adams delivered with a two-run single to right, tying the game and then giving the Nationals the lead.

“Our offense was dismal at the beginning of the game, it really was,” Martinez said. “Nothing was happening. So I thought it was a perfect opportunity - bases loaded, can’t walk Matty, they’ve got to pitch to him - to get him up there. And he came through.”

And then to top it all off, Scherzer sent a run-scoring single up the middle, leaving the ace with a .308 batting average and amazingly more RBIs (four) than strikeouts (three) for the season.

Scherzer then induced a double play out of Max Muncy to end the top of the seventh on his 121st pitch, most in 10 starts this year. But he still needed six outs from his bullpen to finish this off. They couldn’t get those six outs before giving up the lead.

Sammy Solís began the eighth and surrendered a homer to Cody Bellinger, trimming the lead to 4-3. Brandon Kintzler replaced him and despite allowing a one-out triple to Chris Taylor escaped the jam by getting Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, hopping off the mound and pumping his fist.

Doolittle then gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in the ninth.

The Nationals found themselves in a 1-0 hole before ever stepping to the plate for the first time, thanks to a pair of perfectly placed hits (Joc Pederson’s double off the left field line, Muncy’s RBI single through the shifted left side of the infield). But when Dodgers starter Rich Hill had to depart after only two pitches to leadoff man Trea Turner in the bottom of the first - the finger blister that seemingly has plagued the veteran lefty for years reared its ugly head again - the Nats had to think they were just presented with a rare gift: an opposing team needing 27 outs from its bullpen.

Little could they have foreseen what would transpire after that.

Left-hander Scott Alexander replaced Hill and promptly struck out the side in the bottom of the first, then pitched around a leadoff walk to post another zero in the bottom of the second. Pedro Báez then allowed three batters to reach base in two innings of relief, yet none of them via base hit. And when Yimi Garcia retired the side in the fifth, the Nationals were staring the wrong side of history square in the face.

“It’s not easy (facing a parade of relievers), but these guys have faced those guys quite a bit,” Martinez said. “It’s a game of adjustments. So you’ve got to adjust.”

The Nationals did finally adjust during that furious, four-run rally in the sixth to get themselves off the hook for an ignominous no-hitter. But that didn’t guarantee victory. By night’s end, they were miserable not only from a pair of losses but the additional loss of Kendrick for the season.

“It’s been a very long day,” Martinez said. “But the boys battled, came back. ... And when you go to the top of the ninth inning with your closer, you feel pretty good.”

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