A wild defensive day, Meneses' clutch hit and García's homer

The Nationals played their worst defensive game since Opening Day on Sunday afternoon. And yet their 7-6 win over the Guardians might not have been possible without a couple of stellar defensive plays in the ninth inning.

First, the bad: The Nats were charged with three errors, two of them coming during a four-run top of the third that turned a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 deficit.

That inning actually began with a fly ball dropping between Lane Thomas and Victor Robles in right-center field, not officially an error but a cheap double for Mike Zunino on a ball that had an expected batting average of just .050. Two batters later, CJ Abrams booted a sharp grounder to short for his first error since the trifecta he committed on Opening Day.

Then with runners on the corners and Cleveland’s Steven Kwan taking off from first, Keibert Ruiz tried to back-pick Miles Straw at third base, only to watch as Jeimer Candelario was late to get to the bag and let the ball carom off his glove and down the line. Straw wound up scoring, with Candelario charged with the error on the play.

“I wasn’t surprised; we had the sign (for that particularly play),” Candelario said. “He was right there on the base. Actually, I was a little far from the base, because we’ve got to wait for the pitch to go to home. What if the hitter hit the ball to third base? So, I’ve got to be able to cover and then go.”

The top of the fourth featured another error, this one charged to Patrick Corbin, who threw low and wide to Abrams on a potential 1-6-3 double play that would’ve ended the inning. It didn’t end up costing the Nationals, but it did cost Corbin an extra 11 pitches before he finally recorded the third out.

Fast-forward to the top of the ninth, though, for a dramatically different story. Having just taken the lead thanks to Joey Meneses’ two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats gave the ball to Kyle Finnegan for the save. Finnegan induced a shallow fly ball out of Zunino near the right field line that might have fallen in for a leadoff single if not for a racing, sliding catch by Lane Thomas. Moments later, Alex Call (who had just replaced Stone Garrett for defense) caught Will Brennan’s foul ball as he slammed into a padded railing down the left field line for the second out of an inning that could’ve played out much differently if not for both plays.

“Big difference. Big difference,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They’ve got a good team. You can’t give them 30 outs. We talk about that all the time. Lane’s catch, and Call’s catch at the end, was awesome. For a guy like Kyle that’s going out there and trying to close out a game, it’s huge. It motivates him to go out there and pump strikes. I’ve got my defense behind me, and we’ll get this last out.”

* The season is now 10 percent complete, and Meneses is still seeking his first home run. The 30-year-old, who mashed 13 of them in only 240 plate appearances last season, has come close only once, watching a deep drive to left-center die at the warning track Wednesday afternoon in Anaheim.

It’s a disappointing start to the season from a power standpoint, but Sunday’s game did see Meneses continue to hit line drives to the opposite field and have success doing it. His two-out RBI single to right in the bottom of the eighth was the game-winner, and he believes it’s actually a good sign of how he might be able to break out of his power slump sooner rather than later.

“I feel good, usually, when I’m going the other way,” Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I think it adds confidence to my at-bats. I feel like once I get that going, I start letting loose a little bit with my at-bats and start generating a little bit more power. I was just fortunate in that moment that I was able to drive the ball and stay focused and help the team driving in that run.”

* Speaking of power, the Nationals did get a pair of much-needed homers Sunday, with Candelario leading off the bottom of the third with a shot to right-center and Luis Garcia hammering a ball 430 feet to right in the bottom of the seventh.

Those were only the team’s seventh and eighth homers of the season, and Candelario (three) and Garcia (two) have accounted for five of them on their own.

Garcia’s towering blast, in particular, was impressive both because of its distance and the fact it came off a left-hander. It’s only his third career homer in 214 plate appearances against lefties, compared to 14 in 591 plate appearances against right-handers.

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