PHILADELPHIA – After an 8-4 loss in the doubleheader opener – in which the Phillies hit four home runs to the Nationals’ two – the plan for Washington in the nightcap was simple: keep the ball in the yard. And if you can continue to hit them out yourself, even better.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, home runs played a big role in the second game.
The Nationals were able to homer to take an early lead, homer to tie the game late and then homer to win 5-4 in the nightcap in front of 40,264 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
"As I always say, this team just keeps battling," manager Davey Martinez said after the second game. "You play hard for 27 outs, anything can happen in this ballpark. You just got to try to get the ball in the air."
Facing a 4-2 deficit thanks to a Bryce Harper two-run home run and Bryson Stott RBI single in the fifth, Joey Meneses responded with a two-run shot of his own in the seventh.
Lane Thomas, who was in the leadoff spot with CJ Abrams out of the starting lineup, drew a one-out, five-pitch walk against right-handed reliever Jeff Hoffman. Up stepped Meneses, who crushed a first-pitch fastball 108 mph off the bat and 406 feet into the left-center field stands.
And much like Kyle Schwarber in the first game, Meneses wasn’t done.
Against closer Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth, Meneses hit his second homer in as many at-bats to give the Nats a 5-4 lead and help avoid the twinbill sweep. Much like he did with the offering in the seventh, he hit a low-and-inside knuckle curve to left-center field.
"When the relief pitchers came in, first I was sitting fastball," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I thought he was gonna throw me some heaters, which they did. And then the second one, for some reason I just had a feeling he was going to throw me a curveball again. And he did and I was able to hit it.”
Meneses, who is starting to regain his power, hit his 10th and 11th homers of the season, and eighth and ninth in his last 26 games.
“I knew that obviously if I hit a home run, we're gonna take the lead," he said. "And as soon as I hit it, it felt good. I knew I had hit a home run. The feeling was obviously emotional, exciting. But I felt like I got it as soon as I hit it.”
“Just staying back. Staying back, using his legs," Davey Martinez said. "When he does that, he can get the ball in the air and hit the ball hard.”
Meneses showed off his new dad strength in front of infant son, Joey, who was in the stands tonight providing some extra motivation.
“Obviously, he's very young right now," the elder Meneses said. "But it's something that motivates me more because I know my son is in the stands. And maybe later, he's gonna watch those homers or something and he's gonna know being in the stands.”
Josiah Gray, who led the majors with 38 homers allowed last year, has made that a point of emphasis this season and has found much better success.
Entering tonight’s start, the right-hander had only surrendered 15 homers for a 2.8 home run rate, much better than the 5.9 homer rate he allowed in 2022. But he got in trouble with the longball near the end of his night.
After giving up just one run in the first inning on a Trea Turner RBI double, Gray settled in by pitching three scoreless innings with five strikeouts, capped off by a clean fourth frame.
But after Ildemaro Vargas had given him a 2-1 lead with a two-run shot in the fourth, Gray couldn’t keep the top of the Phillies lineup quiet for one more inning.
Gray had thrown 68 pitches entering the fifth. He issued a four-pitch walk to Schwarber – the Phillies’ Game 1 hero with two homers – with one out, but came back to get Nick Castellanos to line out to left. He could not do the same with Harper.
Facing the left-handed slugger, Gray left an 87-mph cutter low in the zone on a 2-2 count, which Harper launched to right-center field for a two-run home run and a 3-2 lead. An infield single by Turner ended Gray’s day after 92 pitches. Turner would come around to score on Stott’s RBI single off Jose A. Ferrer.
“Had to grind through it definitely," Gray said. "Had some good stuff out there, but had to grind through it. There are some good hitters. Just one bad pitch to Harper there. If I could have that back, it might be a little different outing."
Gray was looking to allow two runs or less in a Citizens Bank Park start for the third time in four starts. He ended up being charged with four runs and became the second Nationals starting pitcher today to not complete five innings, his second straight short outing.
"The bullpen (took) me off (the record) and Joey did his thing today," Gray said. "So just one bad pitch, but the guys picked me up and that's what being on the team is about.”
The bullpen indeed had Gray’s back to set up Meneses’ heroics. Ferrer allowed an inherited run to score, but recorded three outs. Andrés Machado pitched 1 ⅓ scoreless innings. Jordan Weems had a shutdown eighth. And Kyle Finnegan recorded his 18th save with a perfect ninth.
“We've been working together," Machado said. "Everybody be in the bullpen talking to each other like we try to win the game. So that's what we've been doing. So everybody's doing the job pretty good to this point.”
The Nationals have won six of their last eight games after splitting this doubleheader. They have a chance to win or split this four-game set over the next two days.
“We're resilient, man. It's showed the whole year," Gray said. "When we're down, we're not too far out. We're hitting the longball when we can and the bullpen's keeping us in games. So just really, we don't get down on ourselves. We really look forward to just the next at-abt, the next pitch and we're never done. We always think we have a chance.”
"It was good night for Joey and a good night for us," Davey Martinez said. "We split a doubleheader here, fantastic. Come back tomorrow and go 1-0.”
* If we’re still talking about homers, it should be mentioned Dylan Crews hit his second professional home run tonight with Single-A Fredericksburg.
The No. 2 overall pick hit a grand slam in the seventh inning of the FredNats’ 11-2 victory over the Lynchburg Hillcats (Guardians). He finished 4-for-5 with two runs scored, four RBIs and a walk. He’s hitting .333 with a 1.108 OPS over his first three games in Single-A.