The first rain delay – in which it never rained hard enough for the infield to be covered – was frustrating. The second rain delay – in which it did actually rain and sent everyone running for cover in the top of the seventh – was more frustrating.
But at the end of a long night of baseball, there was no frustration in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park. There were nothing but smiles after a rousing, come-from-behind, 6-5 victory over the Rockies that only came to fruition after all the misery and waiting that predated it.
Joey Meneses’ three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth capped a four-run rally and propelled the Nats to a much-needed victory on the heels of an ugly loss the previous night. It was witnessed by only a fraction of the 18,182 who paid to attend tonight’s game, but those who were still there at 11:35 p.m. to see Meneses launch a 1-1 pitch from right-hander Justin Lawrence deep to left were glad they waited it out.
The Nationals trailed 4-1 when the evening’s second rain delay disrupted the top of the seventh. When the game resumed at 10:59 p.m., they sprang back to life.
"It's not so much frustrating as it was a little tedious," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Just a little boring, the way you get yourself warmed up, then you have to stop and do it all over again. But it definitely was very satisfactory to be able to pull off the win. Especially because if we would've stopped the game because of the rain delay, we would've lost the game."
Stone Garrett’s homer off Brad Hand in the bottom of the seventh got things going, though Jose A. Ferrer gave that run right back in the top of the eighth. No matter, because there was one last, sustained rally by the home team in the bottom of the inning.
CJ Abrams got things started with a single before stealing second, making him 17 for his last 17 on such attempts. Lane Thomas reached on an error to bring Jeimer Candelario to the plate representing the tying run, and the Nats third baseman promptly doubled to right-center to bring home Abrams and bring Meneses to the plate representing the go-ahead run.
Meneses got a 1-1 slider from Lawrence, reached down and drove the ball deep to left for the deciding homer, only his seventh of the season but his fifth in his last 14 games.
"I saw that first base was open, and I figured more than likely he was going to throw a lot of off-speed in that at-bat to me," Meneses said. "The first one was a slider down the middle, and I saw it very well. And then he threw another one. So I figured he was going to keep throwing it. I was ready for the fastball, regardless, but I was kind of expecting the off-speed. I saw it well, and I took a good swing at it. It was very satisfying to see it go over."
Kyle Finnegan quickly rose in the bullpen to begin warming, and the right-hander then pitched a scoreless top of the ninth to seal the Nats’ fourth win in five games on this homestand, with a chance now to complete another series victory Wednesday in a game scheduled to begin at 12:05 p.m. after this one nearly stretched into Wednesday morning.
The starting pitchers were about to begin warming up when the announcement was made over the stadium PA system: The start of tonight’s game would be delayed due to the threat of storms. Those storms, which were slowly approaching from the west, would inch ever so close to Nationals Park, yet never actually produced enough precipitation to prompt the grounds crew to roll out the tarp.
So when the game finally did begin at 8:30 p.m., the 1-hour, 25-minute delay proved unnecessary, an annoyance to all who waited through it expecting a storm that never fully materialized.
"They stayed ready," manager Davey Martinez said. "They played cards, they watched TV. But the minute we got the phone call, they all got up and got ready."
The Nationals, of course, didn’t want to risk starting the game and having to pull Trevor Williams after only a few innings, which is exactly what happened to him two starts ago in St. Louis. Williams’ start tonight wasn’t interrupted or cut short. It did not get off to a particularly encouraging start, though.
The right-hander was roughed up early, the Rockies going 9-for-15 to begin the game and jump out to a 4-1 lead. Four straight two-out hits plated a pair of runs in the second. Four more hits in a span of five batters, jumpstarted by Ezequiel Tovar’s leadoff homer, to begin the third produced two more runs.
His pitch count already at 60 after three innings, Williams looked like he might be headed for a short night. But he flipped a switch and wound up retiring the last 10 batters he faced, navigating his way through his final three innings on a mere 33 pitches. Williams did this despite diminished velocity on his fastball. He recorded back-to-back strikeouts on fastballs that registered 86 and 87 mph, well below his season average of 90 mph.
"We just continued our game plan," Williams said. "We pitched to contact. We tried to limit the damage as much we could. We're a good-hitting ballclub, and we had to keep it within reach. And thankfully we were able to do so today."
Williams may have kept the game within reach, but for six innings there was little reason to believe his teammates were going to take advantage of that, despite a seemingly advantageous matchup.
Austin Gomber entered this outing with a 6.18 ERA, having been roughed by the same Nationals lineup for five runs in 4 2/3 innings back on April 8 at Coors Field. The left-hander had no such trouble this time around, cruising through six innings of one-run ball, that lone run being of the unearned variety.
As they did Monday night while making quick outs against Rockies bulk reliever Karl Kauffmann (who entered with a 10.19 ERA), the Nats were overly aggressive at the plate and didn’t make Gomber work at all. They never drew a walk off him, and he averaged only 14.2 pitches per inning.
The lone run came via Riley Adams’ two-out double off the left field wall in the second, and even in that instance the Nationals made an out, with Garrett thrown out trying to score from first. Adams, getting a rare chance to be in the lineup at the same time as fellow catcher Keibert Ruiz (who served as designated hitter) had two hits in two at-bats against Gomber. Everyone else went 4-for-20.
"We start chasing, and everything goes haywire for us," Davey Martinez said. "We've got to get the ball in the zone. We've got to get the ball up a little bit. And they did that against Lawrence."
The saving grace, then, was the evening’s second rain delay. With actual, heavy precipitation falling this time, the umpires sent both teams off the field and called for the tarp with one out in the top of the seventh. By the time they resumed play 51 minutes later, Gomber was no longer pitching for Colorado.
And the entire tenor of a long night of baseball changed for the better.
"As I always say, we can't control the weather, especially here in the summertime," Davey Martinez said. "But the boys hung there. For me, the biggest thing about that game is Trevor Williams giving us six innings. If he doesn't do that, we're going to be strapped."