Nats finally mount late rally, beat Guardians (updated)

After a week of close calls, narrow losses and virtually zero late-inning offense, the Nationals' fate Sunday afternoon came down to a bang-bang play at the plate and a subsequent four-minute review by league headquarters in New York to determine if they had just scored the tying run or not due to the opposing catcher blocking a runner's path to the plate on a sacrifice fly to shallow center field.

And when the announcement finally came via crew chief Marvin Hudson, the Nats and their fans finally had reason to celebrate. A celebration that only increased when they scored the go-ahead run moments later and then hung on in the ninth for a hard-earned, 7-6 victory over the Guardians.

The winning run scored on Joey Meneses' two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, but the critical moment came just before that, when Stone Garrett was ruled safe at the plate because Cleveland catcher Mike Zunino had blocked his path.

"It was definitely very emotional," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Usually in a game where you have a big call like that go in our favor, it turns the tide and everything turns in our favor as well. I knew if they called him safe, it was going to be something real big for our team."

Thanks to that reversed call, the Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided a weekend sweep at the hands of the Guardians, who were well on their way to winning yet another tight game in which the home team could not mount a late rally.

This time, though, was different.

"That can turn your month around, turn your season around, just to get some momentum in your favor," Garrett said. "Hey boys, we can win these close games."

Down 6-3 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Nationals got back into the game thanks to Luis García’s two-run homer off left-hander Tim Herrin. They then put themselves in position to at least tie the game in the bottom of the eighth when Garrett singled (his second hit of the afternoon in his first start in a week) and CJ Abrams drew a walk.

After Victor Robles bunted both runners into scoring position, Lane Thomas lofted a high fly ball into shallow center field, only 266 feet in distance, as a crowd of 21,929 anticipated the close call that was about to come. Garrett took off from third as soon as Myles Straw caught the ball and slid hard into the plate, with Zunino applying the tag.

"When I got to third, (base coach Gary DiSarcina) told me we're going to challenge every single one of those outfielders, so I knew we were going," Garrett said. "He didn't need to reassure me when the ball went in the air. It was just see him catch it, and go."

Plate umpire Ryan Blakney called Garrett out as the crowd groaned. But the Nationals dugout immediately asked for a review of the play. It seemed Garrett’s foot might’ve touched the plate before the tag anyway, but New York ultimately ruled him safe because Zunino’s foot was blocking the plate before he had the ball in his possession.

"I knew he was blocking when I went in," Garrett said. "I could see his cleat just over the middle of the plate. And you have the option of just run him over, or try to get around his foot. I didn't want to run him over and miss the plate. But I just learned I would still be safe because he was blocking the plate."

Zunino, as would be expected, believed the opposite.

"I felt like I got it," the Guardians catcher told reporters. "I wasn't sure. His foot first contacted my foot. So I don't know what part of his body would've touched the plate. But it's one of those where (it's) just a baseball play that I haven't personally seen gone that way, and its pretty crummy to see it get dissected down to that point, 'cause I don't know if there's any other play you could do to not just give him the plate."

"It was a close play, but for me, there was no doubt: I was going to challenge the whole play," manager Davey Martinez said. "It was that close. We had to take a chance. I thought Gary did a great job sending him. Stone had a great jump, ran hard. It was bang-bang, and they got the call right."

That call kept the inning alive. And two batters later, Meneses drove a pitch the other way for a two-out RBI single and a lead for the home team, which desperately needed some kind of late magic after several weeks lacking in such uplifting moments.

"I just tried to relax and stay within my strike zone, hopefully get a pitch I'm comfortable at swinging," Meneses said. "Just tried to control my emotions and calm myself down."

It didn’t exactly have the feel of one, but this was indeed a quality start for Patrick Corbin, who, despite the struggles of his pitching and his teammates’ defense, was able to minimize the damage.

All four of Cleveland’s runs came in the top of the fourth during an ugly sequence that included four hits (three of them doubles) and two errors. The first of the defensive gaffes was Abrams’ boot of a sharp grounder to short. It was his first error since his unfortunate trifecta on Opening Day. That all four have now come in games started by Corbin may or may not be coincidence.

The costlier error came later in the inning. With runners on the corners, Steven Kwan attempted to steal second. Rather than throw down, Keibert Ruiz decided to try to surprise Straw, and threw behind the lead runner at third. The problem: Jeimer Candelario was out of position for the throw, which he dropped and allowed to skip into shallow left field, bringing home an unearned run.

To his credit, Corbin brushed off those mistakes – not to mention a throwing error of his own – and finished his start in strong fashion. He retired the last seven batters he faced and departed after a 1-2-3 sixth, having surrendered two earned runs over six innings without issuing a walk.

"Yeah, they got a couple guys on, but I just stuck with what I was doing, throwing strikes, getting ahead and keeping them off-balance," Corbin said. "Just a good team win today to come back, get the lead and have the bullpen shut it down, it was great."

The bullpen ultimately shut it out, but Hobie Harris did increase the deficit to three with a rough top of the seventh that included a leadoff walk, a double, a single and a run-scoring double play. That would have proved costly in the end for a Nationals lineup that has established how tough it is to mount a late comeback.

Except on this day, they finally had one in them.

"Thank God for this moment today," said Candelario, who finished with four hits, including a homer. "We've been playing really good games. Let's keep going. Let's keep rolling."

A wild defensive day, Meneses' clutch hit and Garc...
Garrett gets start, Robles slumping, Ruiz finding ...

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