There isn’t a players-only meeting in the world that can accomplish what a good old-fashioned, club-record, come-from-behind victory can.
Forget about the fact the Nationals gathered after Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox to air their grievances and vow to start playing better. That mattered not a whit if they didn’t follow it up by beating the Marlins tonight.
And boy did they beat the Marlins. Despite spotting them a nine-run lead after 3 1/2 innings.
With their season seemingly teetering on the brink of disaster, the Nationals pulled off the largest comeback in club history. Down 9-0 in the fourth, they scored 14 unanswered runs by the seventh, then hung on for the wildest 14-12 victory anyone had ever seen in these parts.
Heroes came in all shapes and sizes to make this thing possible, but no one stood taller by night’s end than Trea Turner, who had three of the biggest hits in the rally, two of them homers, one of them the grand slam that gave the Nats the lead in the bottom of the seventh.
The bullpen came through with flying colors as well after Jeremy Hellickson’s disastrous start. Six relievers combined to pitch the final five innings, first keeping the game within reach and then holding the precious lead late to ensure this wouldn’t all be for naught.
And when Sean Doolittle struck out Derek Dietrich to wrap it up, a crowd of 24,314 that was booing the home team a couple hours earlier was celebrating with glee as the Nats improved to 43-43.
The depths of despair came shortly after 8 p.m., at which point the Nationals trailed 9-0 and Hellickson (who came into the night feeling ill and not even sure how long he’d be able to pitch) having been rocked over the course of four innings and left on the mound to keep taking the brunt of the punishment despite the presence of Jefry Rodriguez (promoted from Triple-A Syracuse earlier in the day just for this kind of scenario) in the bullpen.
The details of Hellickson’s disastrous start aren’t worth reliving. Suffice it to say, he had just become the poster child of a season on the brink of collapse, with his rookie manager also getting lambasted on social media for letting him pitch long enough to give up nine runs in the first place.
And yet in spite of all that, a flicker of hope emerged when Turner led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run to right-center. All it did was “trim” the deficit from 9-0 to 9-1, but it did more than that. It revealed that there was indeed a spark of energy in the dugout, that this team wasn’t going to roll over and give up on this night as some may have assumed from afar.
And when Rodriguez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the fifth to stop the bleeding and bring his teammates back up to the plate, momentum in this game had officially flipped.
That much really became clear when the Nationals scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth, getting a bases-loaded walk from Adam Eaton, a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Turner and a two-run double from Juan Soto.
Then came the definitive inning of the season to date, the bottom of the sixth. The crowd at this point had become re-energized. It wound up on the verge of a full-blown explosion after the home team scored five more runs to take the lead.
Four of those runs, of course, came via Turner’s grand slam into the left field bullpen, the blast that made it 10-9 and left Turner screaming as he rounded the bases and teammates roaring in the dugout.
And they still weren’t done. The Nationals tacked on four insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh, two of those coming on Turner’s two-out single to left. That gave him eight RBIs, making him only the sixth leadoff hitter in history to do that. And they all came in the span of four innings.
So, if you’ve lost track, that was 14 unanswered runs scored by the Nationals. After the Marlins had scored nine unanswered runs to begin the game. And those extra runs proved vital after the events of the top of the eighth.
Though he had Kelvin Herrera warming as the bottom of the seventh played out, Davey Martinez pulled his elite setup man back and instead warmed up (and brought it) Justin Miller once the lead was extended to five runs. Except Miller lasted only two batters before Martinez turned to Herrera anyway. And then Herrera served up a three-run homer on his second pitch to Brian Anderson, and now this was a 14-12 game, with six outs still necessary to complete the largest comeback in club history.