The Nationals are enjoying the last three games at home after entering this homestand with a sub-.500 record on South Capitol Street and having dropped two of three to the Pirates over the weekend and the series opener to the Cubs on Monday.
But it all came together these last three days in the forms of a 4-1 win Tuesday, a 2-1 win yesterday and a 4-3 win this afternoon, this one delivered by Alex Call’s walk-off home run down the left-field line to send the announced crowd of 18,577 home happy.
The win was the Nationals’ third in a row and sealed their third series win in their last four matchups. It was also completed in 1 hour and 55 minutes, the third-fastest game in the majors this season.
Coming up for his fourth at-bat, Call had already had an eventful day. Starting in center field for Victor Robles, he made a spectacular diving catch to rob Dansby Swanson of a hit in the seventh and preserve a strong outing by Patrick Corbin. But at the plate, he was less fortunate with an 0-for-3 start and two hard lineouts to third baseman Patrick Wisdom.
That’s why you always look to the next one.
Facing Brad Boxberger in the ninth, Call took a first-pitch 90 mph fastball and sent it down the left field line again. This time it was way over Wisdom’s head, not to be caught by anyone on the field. The only question was: Would it stay fair?
“It felt like the ball was in the air for about 12 seconds,” Call said. “I was just kind of hopping down the line. I knew I hit it enough to go out, but I was like, 'Oh, is that gonna stay fair? Yeah, it's staying fair, this is real!' Then it was just trying to not run around the bases too fast. I don't know how many screams I let out, but a lot of fun.”
Call’s third homer of the season traveled 364 feet into the left field corner, plenty of distance to clear the fence. And when it finally did and landed just inside the foul pole, everyone wearing and supporting the curly W jumped for joy. It was an especially special moment for Call, who had never before hit a walk-off homer at any level.
“It was probably the best feeling on a field that I've ever had,” he said. “I've dreamed about that so many times. That's my first walk-off home run at any level. I've hit walk-offs before, but never a home run. It's something that you just dream about. You see all the celebrations and with the teammates and just so many happy emotions running through your head. And knowing all the work that goes into it, too. And then to be in that situation and actually be able to do it, I mean, I've thought about it a lot, too, but to finally be able to get it done, it's amazing.”
“He hit the ball good all day today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Got robbed twice by the third baseman. This time he got the ball up in the air. He crushed it. Just hoping it would stay fair. But what an awesome way to win a game.”
The Nationals had earlier set themselves up to win the game in an old but familiar fashion with strong starting pitching.
That hasn’t usually been the case on days Corbin starts. The Nationals have been happy to take whatever good they can get out of him at this point, his struggles since being named the Game 7 winning pitcher of the 2019 World Series having been well documented.
Yet today, Corbin reverted back to his 2019 self for a rare dominant start that hasn’t been seen from the left-hander over the last few years.
But the Nationals nearly spoiled the outing for their starter, allowing the Cubs to tie the game in the eighth inning and not letting him take home a win.
Corbin had pitched seven shutout innings by only allowing one hit that was lost via the Sun Monster in the second inning. Cody Bellinger hit a high popup to shallow left field, seemingly a routine play for CJ Abrams. But the shortstop lost the ball in the sun and saw it nearly hit him in the head on its way down. Luckily, it was close enough to the infield that Bellinger couldn’t advance to second (although he stole second during the next at-bat) with the official scorer calling it a base hit.
Coming out for the eighth at 77 pitches, Corbin issued back-to-back singles to Bellinger and Wisdom, pulling Martinez from the dugout and Hunter Harvey from the bullpen.
Harvey, having thrown a combined 35 pitches over the past two days, gave up an RBI double to Trey Mancini, a deep sac fly to Miguel Amaya and the game-tying RBI single to Nico Hoerner before ending the inning and attaching two runs to Corbin’s line.
Kyle Finnegan, also pitching for the third straight day, entered in the ninth and almost ruined the whole game by allowing the first two batters to reach via a walk and a double. But he struck out Bellinger and Wisdom, then got Mancini to fly out to right to get the game to the bottom frame still tied.
“I gotta strike somebody out. So that was the plan,” Finnegan said of what he was thinking when the first two batters reached. “Go hard up with my fastball. Try and get some swing and misses, and just give us a chance, see what happens. And thankfully, I was able to get Bellinger there. And similar approach to Wisdom and got another strikeout. Unfortunately, that's what you got to do in that situation. You got to strike a couple guys out and we were able to do it.”
“I was really trying to stay away from one of those two guys today. I really was,” Martinez said of using Harvey and Finnegan. “But we thought in that moment the best matchup was to kind of get them out there regardless of what (happened). And at the end, it worked out. I know they tied the game, but at the end, it worked out.”
Finnegan threw a combined 30 pitches over the previous two days. So with a heavy arm, how did he put himself in position to get his first win of the season?
“When you get in there, the adrenaline kind of takes over and you forget about how you're feeling a little bit and you just focus on attacking hitters,” he said. “And I think once you get good and loose and get out in the game and the adrenaline hits you, it's no big deal. It's just another three outs.”
In the end, Corbin twirled seven-plus innings of two-run ball with three hits, six strikeouts and no walks.
“I thought everything was good,” he said. “Fastball command was good. I used the changeup quite a bit today. Good sliders, caught them off balance, got some quick outs. Just was in rhythm kinda all day with (Riley) Adams and defense made plays behind me.”
The southpaw was in command of all of his pitches and lived in the strike zone against the Cubs hitters. He threw 57 of his 80 pitches for strikes (71 percent). He retired 21 of the 24 batters he faced and threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of them. And he induced 12 whiffs, with five coming on his changeup.
“His changeup was awesome,” Martinez said. “I think it kind of messed those guys up a little bit because they're gonna look in. But him throwing the changeup effectively like that, kind of caught them off balance a little bit.”
Corbin has been much better as of late. This was his third quality start in his last four outings, which has reduced his ERA from 7.71 to 5.17.
“Hey, he's thrown the ball six out of the last seven times really well,” Martinez said. “Today was really the Patrick Corbin we've seen before. So he's doing awesome. He really is. So if he can continue to do, that keep us in the games, we'll win some games for him.”
They almost got him the win today, thanks in part be good defense and Lane Thomas’ three-run home run off Cubs starter Jameson Taillon in the second inning.
But even though their starter wasn’t credited with the win – and it took a tougher route than they would have liked – the Nationals believe winning games in bunches like they did this week and in dramatic fashion like they did today are also part of the player development focus for their young players this year.
“One hundred percent,” Martinez said. “You know, regardless of where we're at as far as development and teaching guys, winning is a big part of that. And the more we can do it, the more these guys can relax and say, 'Hey, we can do this. We can do this together.' It's going to take 26 guys every day. And I think that's what we're starting to see now that at any given moment, one of those guys is going to step up. … I'm proud of these guys. They could be down, but they're never out of it. Something about this team is that they never quit. They're gonna keep going, keep pounding and it's been awesome.”