MIAMI – If they had the ability to vote for this year’s National League Cy Young Award winner – and they most certainly do not – the Nationals would unanimously select Sandy Alcantara. With all due respect to anybody else they’ve faced this year, how could they go with anyone other than the Marlins ace, who has dominated everyone around the league but has saved some of this best performances for them.
And you can add tonight’s gem to the list. With power and efficiency, Alcantara toppled the Nationals, 4-1, and nearly tossed his second complete game against them this week.
The lanky right-hander struck out 11 and saw his pitch count climb a bit (99) compared to his 103-pitch complete game Sunday at Nationals Park. That prompted manager Don Mattingly to lift him after he struck out the side in the eighth and turn to closer Dylan Floro to finish it off.
That didn’t diminish Alcantara’s performance tonight, in which he allowed only five batters to reach base, with Alex Call reaching three times on his own and everybody else combining to reach twice. Call somehow managed to reach base in six of his seven plate appearances against Alcantara this week, cracking a code nobody else in the Nats lineup could figure out.
There’s no shame, of course, in getting beat by Alcantara, now 14-8 with a 2.32 ERA for the season. But he’s been remarkably dominant against the Nationals, who in five starts went 4-0 with an 0.90 ERA, averaging eight innings per outing.
How does he rank compared to anyone else they've faced this year?
"Number one," Joey Meneses said with a smile that conveyed just how large the gap must be between Alcantara and whoever ranks second.
As was the case in the series opener, the Nationals jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead via a first-inning homer. Lane Thomas did to Braxton Garrett on Friday night what Meneses did to Alcantara tonight, driving a 99-mph fastball the other way for his 11th homer in 45 big league games. That hit also raised his batting average to .330, third-highest among all National League players since his Aug. 2 debut.
"I know he's a pitcher that throws very hard, so I was looking to be aggressive early on," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "The last time I faced him, it seemed like I let a few pitches get by me to get deep in the count, and it seemed like it favored him. He's a very good pitcher, and you don't want to let that happen. So I was just trying to be aggressive and not let that happen."
The one early run, of course, was nice. But it wasn’t a predictor of future success against Alcantara, who shrugged it off and started doing what he always does: Dominate with a rare efficiency of pitches.
The Nationals put only three more runners on base through the sixth inning: Call walked and blooped a single, and CJ Abrams beat out a bunt for a single. They could not turn any of that into another run, though, as Alcantara found his groove and unsurprisingly never looked back.
"We had an inning there where we had no outs and couldn't move the baseball," manager Davey Martinez said. "But look, he's in our division. We're going to face him next year again. We've got to get ready and get prepared to hit him.
With zero margin for error, Erick Fedde did what he could to minimize damage against him but was done in by a couple of key hits, not all of them his fault.
Fedde appeared to be out of a first-inning jam when he got JJ Bleday to loft a flyball into shallow right-center with two on and two out. But when Thomas and Victor Robles each pulled up short and watched the ball fall harmlessly to the turf between them, both runners scored at Fedde’s expense, and the Nationals’ early 1-0 lead had immediately morphed into a 2-1 deficit.
"You've just got to remind yourself there's times where great plays are made," Fedde said. "Sometimes things fall, and then you've got to just keep moving on. That's part of the game. Things don't always go your way, but you've got to keep battling and give your team the best chance to win."
Fedde was responsible for the third run he surrendered, when he hung a first-pitch curveball to begin the bottom of the fourth and Bryan De La Cruz hammered it to center field for a solo homer. But he again was the victim of some tough luck a couple of innings later.
On the verge of getting through a 1-2-3 sixth and perhaps still having enough in the tank to come back for the seventh, he surrendered a chopper to third by De La Cruz. Ildemaro Vargas had to decide whether to charge the ball or stay back and play it on a high hop, and he chose the latter. In doing so, De La Cruz was able to narrowly beat Vargas’ throw across the diamond, extending the inning. A Jacob Stallings single and Miguel Rojas double later, Fedde was getting the hook, having now allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Fedde, to be sure, didn’t pitch exceptionally well. But neither did he really deserve the final line charged to him on a night when he knew he needed to be exceptional to defeat the league’s best starter.
"I mean, he's obviously having a really special year," Fedde said. "Watching his stuff, it's impressive. It's unbelievable, his ability to throw three pitches so aggressively at the zone and make guys also so uncomfortable. As an opposing pitcher, he doesn't let you have much time to breathe, either."