Irvin's career day spoiled by late Red Sox rally in loss (updated)

BOSTON – The Nationals returned to Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon in search of a series win over the Red Sox. A victory today would lock up their second series win in their last three and third in their last five. Plus, it would put them two games over .500 for the first time since June 30, 2021.

But despite Jake Irvin pitching one of the best starts of his career, a late Red Sox rally buried the Nats in a 4-2 loss.

Robert Garcia entered the eighth inning of a 2-2 game looking to keep the game tied. Pinch-hitter Rob Refsnyder hit a one-out infield single that dribbled up the third base line and never went foul. Garcia got pinch-hitter Romy Gonzalez to hit a ground ball to CJ Abrams, but the young shortstop tried to turn the double play by himself and threw the ball into the Red Sox dugout.

With Gonzalez on second, the Nats intentionally walked the right-handed Tyler O’Neill to bring up the lefty Rafael Devers, who proceeded to end a seven-pitch battle with a two-run double to left to send the 30,995 fans in Boston into a frenzy.

“Tried to throw a slider first pitch and see if I can get him to swing. It wasn't a great one, it moved away," Garcia said after the game. "I fell down 2-0, which was fine. I got right back in the count, evened it out 2-2. I threw a high fastball and he looked very uncomfortable. Surprised, kind of taken aback about, probably, the velo and the way it was thrown. So I figured that we're gonna go there. Because that's my best pitch. Fastball has been my best pitch, we're going right after him in that situation. I didn't execute my location and he beat my best pitch today.”

Davey Martinez had Hunter Harvey warming in the bullpen, and with Garcia already having faced the required three batters, he could have brought in the right-hander to face O'Neill. But the manager stuck with his only lefty reliever to face the Red Sox cleanup hitter.

“It's a tied ballgame, so I thought that was the right matchup," Martinez said. "It was a good battle up there. He fouled a couple of good tough pitches off and Rafi just got the best of him today. But Garcia has been throwing the ball good. He's our left-handed guy, so we decided to go that route. It didn't work out today, but I think I'd do it again tomorrow in a tied ballgame.”

Martinez insisted Harvey was warming for Vaughn Grissom if the bases were loaded, or for the ninth inning if Garcia got out of the jam.

“Nope, he was gonna face Grissom if the bases were loaded," he said. “It's not about a good matchup. We needed him for the ninth. So we're trying to hold off on him. It's a tied game. If we're ahead, he comes in the game. But right then and there, I thought the way that Robert has been throwing the ball, we'd get away with facing Devers. It didn't work out.”

The unfortunate ending came after Irvin tossed one of the best outings of his young career. His fourth quality start (all within his last six outings) came with a good mix of fastballs and curveballs: He threw his heater 41 percent of the time and curveball 39 percent, while getting 16 whiffs between the two of them.

“The curveball was really good," Irvin said. "Just trying to challenge guys. Get ahead early and then make better pitches in plus counts. So I think just being able to kind of keep guys off balance, throwing different pitches in every count was really successful today.”

The young right-hander was put in a similar situation to the one he faced in his last start to begin this one. Irvin was charged with four unearned runs in the first inning a week ago against the Blue Jays, thanks to two errors on the defense behind him. After getting two outs on nine pitches, his first inning today should have been over after his 10th offering. But Trey Lipscomb muffed a grounder to extend the inning.

No runs scored, however, as Irvin finished the inning after a total of 18 pitches.

From there, he cruised. He threw perfect innings in the second, fourth and sixth.

“Just trying to get deep in the game. Save the 'pen a little bit," Irvin said. "We got a really long road trip ahead and I know that a lot of those guys have thrown quite a bit this year. So I'm trying to do what I can to save those guys' arms a little bit and get as deep into the ballgame as possible.”

His only real hiccup was a solo home run by Wilyer Abreu on a slider left over the plate in the third. Then he gave up a leadoff single in the fifth to Reese McGuire, who worked his way around the bases and scored on Jarren Durran’s RBI double off the Green Monster.

Irvin then completed a 1-2-3 seventh inning to set a new career high in innings pitched in a single outing. His final line included four hits, two runs, zero walks, six strikeouts and the home run on 103 pitches, 73 strikes.

“We thought it'd be a good time to get him through about 100 pictures," Martinez said. "He was throwing the ball really well. He finished up really strong. He threw the ball really, really well today. Real proud of him. He attacked the strike zone. That really gave us the innings that we needed. Our bullpen has been used a lot. So for him to go out there and give us those seven innings was huge.”

Irvin became just the second Nats starter to complete seven innings this year after Mitchell Parker did it on April 21 against the Astros. He now leads the rotation with 45 ⅔ innings pitched while lowering his ERA to 3.55.

“It's something that you've got to want in that situation," he said. "It's a team game, man. Being able to save those guys for the next couple of days is, hopefully, going to win us a couple of different ballgames there. So my job is to throw strikes, get deep, and that was the goal today.”

The Nats’ early offense came from longballs conquering the Green Monster.

Joey Meneses, seeking his first home run since Sept. 20, finally hit his first of the season leading off the second for an early 1-0 lead. He turned on a 2-2 slider from Cooper Criswell and hit it 388 feet over the big wall in left 104 mph off the bat.

With that home run, Meneses has now homered against each MLB organization he spent time with prior to joining the Nationals in 2022: one homer against the Braves (2011-17), four against the Phillies (2018) and one against the Red Sox (2021).

“I felt great, obviously because it's my first home run, not because I played with them in the minor leagues," Meneses said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I appreciate everything they did for me and gave me the opportunity to play there. But it's just a great feeling to hit your first homer.”

Eddie Rosario then led off the fifth with a homer to give the Nats a 2-1 lead. Hooking toward the foul pole and seemingly just barely getting over the wall, his fourth homer of the season was confirmed by replay.

But that was all the Nats could muster from the plate this afternoon after scoring two big runs in the ninth inning last night. The series win will have to wait another day.

“We got chance to win a series here tomorrow," Davey Martinez said. "So we'll come back tomorrow and go 1-0.”

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