Eighth-inning meltdown turns late lead into 7-3 loss

Thanks to some timely hits, a dominant-at-times start from Max Scherzer and a couple fortuitous breaks, the Nationals found themselves in prime position to win their fourth straight game tonight and expand their ever-growing lead in the NL East.

Instead, an eighth-inning meltdown by reliever Felipe Rivero turned a well-played victory over the Padres into perhaps the Nats' worst loss of the season.

Rivero failed to retire any of the six batters he faced during a calamitous bottom of the eighth at Petco Park, which began with the Nationals leading by two runs but ended with them trailing by the eventual final score of 7-3.


"That was just a series of bad events," manager Dusty Baker told reporters after the game. "We haven't given up a game like that in a long time. And I hope it's a long time before it happens again."

The young left-hander with the electric arm had been struggling over the last few weeks, particularly when facing opposing left-handed batters, but the situation may have reached a critical point this time.

Handed the ball by Baker with his team leading 3-1 and needing six outs to win for the third straight night in San Diego, Rivero immediately loaded the bases on two singles and a four-pitch walk. Wil Myers' double in front of a diving Michael A. Taylor in left-center brought home two runs and left the game tied, after which Rivero intentionally walked Matt Kemp to load the bases and set up a force play at every base.

That strategy looked like it would work to perfection when Brett Wallace chopped a comebacker right to Rivero, but the pitcher bobbled the ball and then despite still having enough time to start a 1-2-3 double play threw the ball away, letting the go-ahead run score.

"We had a chance to get out of that with that comebacker to him," Baker said. "And he threw it wild to the plate. We had the perfect man up for the double play. That's what we were hoping, that he would hit it back to Felipe, home-to-first double play, and then we were going to go to another reliever."

Blake Treinen replaced Rivero after that but proceeded to let all three inherited runners score via a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single, putting the game out of reach.

That bullpen meltdown spoiled what at times was a dominant start by Scherzer, who recorded eight-of-nine outs via strikeout during one stretch. But the right-hander also had to expend an excessive amount of energy just to get through six innings, with a pitch count that stood at 113 despite the fact he only put four men on base all night.

"They had a good gameplan against me," Scherzer told reporters after the game. "They were able to go up there, grind some AB's out and really play the foul-ball game. They really seemed to have a number of what I was doing. They were able to lay off some pitches and foul other pitches off. I tip my hat to them in how they approached me. That was a tough game for me to go out there and continue to make pitches."

Myers' first-inning home run accounted for the Padres' lone tally against Scherzer, who has now served up 18 homers in 15 starts this season and 35 homers in his last 29 starts dating back to last summer.

When he departed the mound after the bottom of the sixth, Scherzer had 10 strikeouts to his name, zero walks and every intention of retaking the mound for the bottom of the seventh. Despite his animated pleas with both Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux, though, the right-hander was told his night was over, so he was left to watch the rest from the dugout.

"(Scherzer) gave us all he had," Baker said. "But we didn't want to take him any more pitches, because he had a couple early innings where he had a high pitch count."

The game remained tied at that point, but Scherzer still wound up in line for the win after an odd sequence that gave the Nationals the lead in the top of the seventh.

With two outs and runners on first and second, Danny Espinosa sent a sharp grounder down the first base line. Myers made a nice diving play to knock down the ball and then tried to flip it shovel-pass style to reliever Brandon Maurer, who was covering the bag. Maurer, though, couldn't handle the hard toss from close range, and by the time Myers retrieved the ball, Wilson Ramos had scampered 180 feet around the bases to score the go-ahead run.

Ryan Zimmerman's more conventional, two-out single to right in the eighth brought Taylor home with an insurance run to give the Nationals bullpen some extra cushion.

Little could the Nationals have known at that moment they would need far more than a two-run cushion on this night.

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