With the all-important and definitely real prize of the MASN Cup on the line, the Nationals could neither hold a close lead nor produce a late rally against their rivals from Baltimore.
After splitting two games at Camden Yards in June and dropping the Washington opener here last night, the Nationals fell to the Orioles 6-2 before an announced crowd of 32,497 to lose this year’s edition of the Battle of the Beltways.
Things went off the rails for the home team in the seventh while holding a 2-1 lead.
Mason Thompson, whose 0.60 ERA to begin the night was impressive even though it didn’t come in many high-leverage situations, entered in relief of starter Patrick Corbin for the start of the frame.
After back-to-back singles to Jesús Aguilar (with Terrin Vavra pinch-running) and pinch-hitter Cedric Mullins, Thompson faced Gunnar Henderson, one of baseball's top prospects.
Henderson slapped a 1-0 sinker in the zone down the left-field line, scoring both runners. César Hernández, playing left field for just the fourth time this season, had a hard time corralling the ball down in the corner and when he finally got a hold of it had it slip out of his hand while trying to throw it to the infield.
“I was playing it thinking it was going to play off the corner there and carom off the corner. And that's how I played it," Hernández said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Unfortunately, it didn't and that's why the play resulted in what it did.”
“He went to pick the ball up and throw it. The ball slipped out of his hand," manager Davey Martinez said. "I haven't seen that in a while, but it'll happen. He hit the ball down and we were playing pretty much kind of the other way in the gap. So he ran a long ways. He just went to go throw the ball and it just came out of his hand.”
The result was a Little League home run for Henderson, who was credited with a two-run triple and scored on Hernández’s throwing error, and a 5-2 lead for the Orioles.
“It was something that just happened," Hernández said. "I was trying to be real quick with it. It's a position I haven't played a whole lot and I'm trying to get used to. Unfortunately, it's just something that just resulted that way.”
“He's been good. Just location," Davey Martinez said of Thompson. "He threw too many balls over the middle part of the plate where, when he's good, he's been on the edges mixing his pitches in and out. Today his ball was just pretty much right down the middle.”
Henderson then added an RBI double in the eighth off Paolo Espino to finish the scoring for Baltimore.
Looking to recapture some of the good momentum from a week ago, Corbin took the mound for his last non-National League East opponent of the season.
The left-hander has fared slightly better this year outside of the division, pitching to a 6.53 ERA inside the National League East and a 6.13 ERA against everyone else. Unfortunately, the Nationals only have division rivals left on the schedule after tonight.
Facing a young and promising Orioles lineup, Corbin completed six innings of one-run ball and exited with a lead to avoid his 19th loss of the season.
Corbin cruised through the top of the Baltimore lineup in the first inning, retiring Austin Hays, Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle on nine pitches.
In the second, he gave up three straight singles to load the bases without recording an out. But a force out at home on a comebacker, a grounder that Ildemaro Vargas couldn’t turn into a double play and strikeout limited the damage to just one run.
After needing 29 pitches in the second, Corbin retired the next nine batters in a row. He ran into trouble again in the sixth with a leadoff double and a hit-batter two batters later. But he got out of it with a fly ball and a comebacker, leaving the Nats’ 2-1 lead intact.
“Yeah, I thought I did a good job just mixing up," Corbin said. "I know last game, I had a lot of fastballs and had quick at-bats. Today I was just trying to get ahead but (make) quality pitches, mix it up a little bit. Riley (Adams) did a great job back there keeping them off balance. Just kind of the one inning left a couple of fastballs up, but other than that it was pretty good.”
“Patrick was really good tonight," Davey Martinez said. "And that was the plan: keep the ball down, use your changeups, use your sliders on occasion. Don't throw many. Just focus on keeping the ball down. And he did that. I think he came out the second inning where he started to get the ball up. We talked to him right away about everything. You pound zone down, down, down. I mean the ball, he's got a lot more movement when the ball is down and use your changeups. And he was really, really good the rest of the night, so that's awesome.
"To see Patrick pitch the way he's been pitching over the last four or five outings, it's definitely encouraging moving forward. So I love what he's doing right now.”
The lead was provided by a pair of solo homers, the only two hits the Nats managed off Orioles starter Tyler Wells in his second start since returning from the injured list.
Adams got a hold of a 0-1 slider and sent it over the left-field fence to tie the game at 1-1 in the third. Then Luke Voit launched a 94 mph fastball 426 feet into the center-field seats to give the Nats the lead in the fourth.
“Riley, when he gets the ball down in the zone, he can hit the ball down," Davey Martinez said. "And we've been preaching to him, 'Hey, anything down, go ahead and swing.' He hits the ball hard. Luke, he got the ball up. He was on time. He worked today on hitting the ball up and trying to get it out front. And he got a ball up today and smoked it.”
The Orioles bullpen shut down the Nats offense over the next five innings, including familiar face Austin Voth who faced his former team for the first time and only issued two walks in one inning of work.
“No, same. He's got cutters, curveballs," Davey Martinez said when asked if he saw anything different in Voth from his time with the Nats. "I haven't really seen, the velo is still 93 (mph). But nothing really stood out to me where I said ... he's still throwing the ball like he threw before. But he threw more curveballs, he threw more cutters. But I didn't see anything different, no.”
The result left fans wearing red and blue with a sad trip home in the D.C. area and the fans in orange and black with a happy trip home back up I-295.