Nats finally break through in ninth to beat Rockies (updated)

DENVER – For two nights, the Nationals shrugged off their hitting woes and took full advantage of Coors Field and everything it has to offer. And then when it came time for today’s series finale in the best hitter’s park in America, they reverted right back to the form they displayed earlier in the week when they swung at almost everything the Diamondbacks threw at them and emerged with very little to show for it.

Until it mattered most at day’s end and the bats finally woke up just enough to do the impossible.

Held to one hit for eight innings, the Nationals strung together three of them in the ninth, getting clutch RBI knocks from Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses to storm back and beat the Rockies, 2-1, with Kyle Finnegan atoning for his disastrous bottom of the ninth Saturday night to notch the save on Sunday afternoon.

"You look at the last few games and know that the last few innings ... you feel like no one's going to win 1-0," Thomas said. "I think at no part in that game did we think we weren't going to score at least one. We were able to get it done." 

Unable to do anything at the plate for nearly the entire day, aside from Jacob Young’s sixth-inning infield single, the Nats finally put it together in the ninth against Colorado left-hander Jalen Beeks. Young got it started with another infield single, and though he was wiped out on CJ Abrams’ chopper to third, Abrams got himself into scoring position on a wild pitch.

And when Thomas drove a ball into the right field corner for an RBI double, Abrams raced around to score the tying run and at least keep his team from being shut out. Thomas went on to steal third, but when Ildemaro Vargas struck out with a mighty swing at a 3-2 fastball, it was left to Meneses to deliver with two outs.

One of the league’s best hitters with runners in scoring position last year but unable to duplicate the feat so far this year, Meneses did come through with one of his biggest hits in a while. He lined Beeks’ 0-1 fastball right back up the middle to score Thomas and give the Nationals a hard-earned 2-1 lead.

"Very exciting, and very satisfying as well," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I have been battling this whole series. I felt like I haven't been doing much. So I felt a great relief and satisfaction to be able to get that base hit, especially in a crucial part of the game."

They still needed a zero from Finnegan in the bottom of the inning, less than 24 hours after the potential All-Star closer failed to retire any of the five batters he faced and forced in the winning run with a bases-loaded clock violation.

Finnegan got himself into trouble again, allowing back-to-back singles to Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers. But he buckled down and struck out Nolan Jones with a fastball, then got Hunter Goodman to fly out to left, then got Michael Toglia looking at another fastball to secure his 22nd save in 25 opportunities.

"You just want to go out there and get off to a good start. And that didn't happen," Finnegan said with a smile. "It felt like yesterday was spilling over into today a little bit. I felt really good. I felt like I was making good pitches, and they were hitting it where we weren't standing. Got in a hole, but I kind of (bore) down, told myself I wasn't going to let it happen."

Hits were no problem for the Nationals on Friday night, when they collected a season-high 19 of them, or Saturday night, when they totaled 11 more. And the conditions this afternoon – 94 degrees and dry as a bone – were conducive to offense. Until the game actually started.

Guys looked lost against Kyle Freeland from the get-go, with Abrams, Thomas and unconventional No. 3 hitter Vargas seeing a total of nine pitches in the top of the first. Nick Senzel managed to hit a fly ball to the warning track, and Keibert Ruiz drew a walk in the second, but still there were no hits on the board.

And as the game proceeded, Freeland (making his return from an elbow strain that landed him on the 60-day injured list) showed no signs of letting up. He retired the side on 11 pitches in the third, 10 pitches in the fourth and 10 more pitches in the fifth, the Nats continuing a troubling trend from the start of the week when they made quick out after quick out against the Diamondbacks.

Freeland’s no-hit bid continued into the sixth, with Luis García Jr. striking out to begin that inning. Then Young finally brought an end to the madness with a sharp grounder down the third base line, easily beating McMahon’s throw to first and actually winding up on third when that late throw sailed high and caromed down the line.

But with two shots to drive in the tying run from third, the Nationals failed not only to convert but to even put the bat on the ball. Abrams struck out on three pitches, then Thomas whiffed at a fastball to end the sixth with the team still trailing 1-0.

"You step in that box, and it's hard. I'm telling you, it's hard," manager Davey Martinez said. "Sometimes it goes like that. But you go out there and play hard for 27 outs, good things happen."

The deficit was so minimal because Jake Irvin was every bit as dominant as Freeland, done in by one lousy mistake in the bottom of the second.

That mistake, a 2-0 cutter to Toglia, actually landed where Irvin wanted it to, yet it still wound up traveling 462 feet to right field, a gargantuan blast to right by the Rockies first baseman for the game’s first run. Little could anyone have guessed that would be the game’s lone run for most of the afternoon.

Irvin showed no ill effects of the conditions at Coors. His fastball had life. His curveball had break. And Colorado’s hitters had no answer for him.

Irvin faced 15 batters after the home run. He retired 14 of them, nine via strikeout. When he got McMahon looking at a beautiful curveball for the second out of the sixth, he had matched his career high with 10 strikeouts, duplicating his effort from last month against the Braves. He’s the first pitcher in club history to strike out 10 at Coors Field.

"Obviously, the elements are a little different than in other parks we play in," he said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to (Patrick Corbin), because ... he pitched in Arizona for a while and he played here a lot. He said you can't be intimidated by the ballpark and the conditions. Just pitch your game. That advice really helped."

And yet when he walked off the mound at the end of the sixth, Irvin saw his team trailing 1-0. He lowered his ERA to 3.13 but he was in line for his seventh loss of the year, thanks to another afternoon of zero run support.

By day's end, he was more than happy to accept a no-decision, just as long as there was a W next to someone else on his staff's name.

"If I give us a chance to win, I know we're always in it," Irvin said. "Credit to their guy, Freeland. He's a good pitcher. Coming off the IL to do that is pretty special. But our approach never changed, and you could see it with the guys in the dugout. They were fighting. They believe in one another, and I've got a lot of faith in them."

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