Given how well they played all spring, it just wouldn't have felt right for the Nationals to lose their exhibition finale. Never fear, because thanks to a slowly-but-surely rally over the final three innings, they indeed came back to tie the Twins 8-8 and at least not send themselves down to Atlanta for opening day reeling from a loss.
"I'm proud of these guys, how they performed," said manager Dusty Baker, whose club finished the exhibition slate 19-4-4 (the top winning percentage in baseball). "Especially, we take pride in getaway day victories. It's a hard game to play. The end of spring, you're ready to start the season, you've got to go to Atlanta, the fact they played all the way through 'til the end ... I tell them all the time: 'We've got to finish strong.' And we finished strong."
The Nationals pulled this one off despite trailing 8-5 in the seventh. They got an RBI single from Scott Sizemore in the seventh, then from Ben Revere in the eighth, then got the game-tying blast from Chris Heisey leading off the bottom of the ninth.
For Heisey, who learned Friday night he made the club as a non-roster invitee, it was a sweet way to wrap an encouraging spring.
"Any time you can hit home runs, it's pretty fun, said the 31-year-old, who hit three of them in 45 at-bats this spring. "It's just nice to take that into the season, have your last spring training at-bat end like that."
Heisey's solo blast was the Nationals' fifth homer of the game. Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy went back-to-back in the bottom of the first, Michael A. Taylor led off the bottom of the third with a shot to left-center and Danny Espinosa added a towering drive to center in the fourth.
Taylor wrapped up a fantastic spring with two more hits and two more runs scored. He wound up hitting a cool .453 (24-for-53) with five homers, 16 RBIs and a 1.340 OPS that trailed only Colorado's Nolan Arenado (1.617) among all qualifying big league hitters this spring.
"I just feel good right now," Taylor said. "The numbers don't really matter. But at the plate I feel pretty comfortable. Hopefully, I can take that into the season."
That'll be the challenge for the Nationals, finding enough at-bats for Taylor to stay hot even though he won't be in Monday's opening day lineup.
Revere, who came off the bench today, figures to get at least one day off per week, though the speedy leadoff man just capped an impressive spring of his own, hitting .429 (18-for-42) with five extra-base hits. Jayson Werth wasn't as productive, hitting .244 (10-for-41), but he began to swing better over the final week of camp, and Baker made it clear he'll continue to be a regular member of the lineup.
"Michael's going to play," the manager said. "But Ben's hot, too. And you gotta get Jayson Werth going because if he doesn't play, he'll never get going. We've just got to try to find a way to work him in there."
Perhaps the only downside to today's game was Joe Ross' shaky start. The right-hander was roughed up for eight runs and 12 hits in only five innings, though he also struck out eight without walking anybody, an odd combination of extremes at both ends of the pitching spectrum.
This actually was Ross' first appearance in an official exhibition game since March 20, when he took a comebacker off his heel and was forced out in the second inning. Since then, he pitched in a simulated "B" game in Viera (with a lineup that included Werth, Bryce Harper and Murphy) and then had a start rained out in Florida.
"That's why we left him in there so long (today) because we had to stretch him out," Baker said. "That's the most pitches he's gone. The good thing is he didn't walk anybody and he battled. The main thing is, he got his work in."
Ross, whose first start of the regular season hasn't been revealed yet, feels like he still got enough preparation over the last few weeks, despite his on-and-off schedule.
"I mean, that minor league game, I faced J-Dub, Harp, Murph, all of them like four, five times," he said. "But yeah, I feel pretty good. I feel like I'm ready for the season. Obviously, I gave up more hits today than I wanted, but I think I'll be ready."