PHOENIX – So little about the Nationals’ performance this afternoon at Chase Field was inspired. There were egregious outs run into on the bases, errors committed in the field, long innings defined by deep counts and walks issued.
And yet when it really mattered in the end, the Nats found a way to do just enough to put themselves in position to win. They got a clutch double from Josh Bell in the seventh (and an overturned call on a quirky play that went their way for once). They got a clutch hit by Keibert Ruiz in the eighth to give themselves a rare lead. And then they rode their new closer for five outs to emerge with a 4-3 victory that felt oh so good, no matter how bad this game actually looked at times.
Thus did the Nationals avoid a weekend sweep in Arizona and win for only the third time in their last 20 games. The outcome changes nothing about the broader picture for this floundering franchise, but for one afternoon it was OK to smile.
"We haven't had a lot of comeback wins this year," starter Erick Fedde said. "So those are the ones that are big confidence boosters. And I think the more you do it, the easier it is to have a recurrence. It's good for us. I hope to see more wins like that for us."
The go-ahead rally was ignited by Lane Thomas, pinch-hitting for Yadiel Hernandez to open the eighth. Facing All-Star left-hander Joe Mantiply, Thomas lined a hit to left-center, then hustled his way into second for a double to set the stage. Luis García put down a well placed sacrifice bunt to advance him to third, then Ruiz laced an RBI single to right for his third hit of a game that also included a walk drawn.
"I wasn't trying to do too much," Ruiz said. "I think that's the key. I've just got to keep going, keep having that approach and good things are going to happen."
Needing six more outs to finish it off, the Nationals saw Steve Cishek load the bases via two groundball singles and his ninth hit-by-pitch in 41 1/3 innings this season before inducing a popup. So Davey Martinez entrusted the final 1 2/3 innings to Kyle Finnegan, getting his long-awaited first opportunity to close after Tanner Rainey suffered an elbow injury.
And how did Finnegan respond? By recording the first two of the five outs he needed on one pitch, then returning for the bottom of the ninth to notch the final three and secure a victory despite all that went wrong prior to that point.
"My mindset was: Make a pitch, execute a pitch," Finnegan said. "And it worked out for us."
The sloppiness was on display right from the get-go on an uncharacteristically cool, 89-degree (though slightly humid) July afternoon in downtown Phoenix. Fedde gave up two runs in the bottom of the first via three singles, a walk, a stolen base, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, an inning that also saw third base left vacant on a single to center because of the infield shift and Victor Robles still throw in that direction to allow the trailing runner to advance.
Fedde would surrender only one more run, but he was anything but sharp today. The right-hander walked four batters, allowed seven hits, issued a wild pitch and needed 99 pitches to record 14 outs.
"Just shaking off the rust in that first inning, unfortunately," Fedde said. "But I kept the team in the game, gave us a chance, and the boys pulled off a nice comeback win. It's huge."
This did remain a competitive game, even though the Nationals squandered countless scoring opportunities. Nine of the 19 batters who faced Diamondbacks starter Corbin Martin reached base, yet only one of them scored. That came on back-to-back hits by Ruiz and Ehire Adrianza in the fourth, Ruiz’s hit a double to right-center, Adrianza’s an RBI single to right.
Before and after that, though, were a flurry of fundamental mistakes and poor execution. Robles was caught trying to steal third with two on, one out and Josh Bell at the plate, ultimately costing his team a run during an inning in which Martin issued three straight two-out walks.
"We've got to take some chances here and there," manager Davey Martinez said. "It's the way the game is supposed to be played. So I was OK with Robles there trying to steal."
The Nationals scored their second run when Josh Rojas threw away Ruiz’s grounder to third, allowing Yadiel Hernandez to score all the way from first and Ruiz to make it all the way to third. Moments later, Ruiz was caught in a rundown on a botched safety squeeze with Adrianza at the plate.
"I was just trying to make sure I scored on that play," Ruiz said. "I was too far from the base, and he got me. It's something to learn. I've got to wait for him to bunt. That can't happen in a close game."
There also were three errors in the field: Ruiz’s wide throw on a stolen base attempt, Juan Soto’s bobble on a double off the wall in right field and Bell’s drop of a low throw at first base.
And in spite of all that, the Nats entered the seventh inning trailing by a run and ultimately tied the game when they finally caught a break on a questionable call. With one out and a man on first, Bell ripped a double down the right field line. The ball bounced around the corner and, according to the initial call by first base umpire Junior Valentine, left the field of play, which prevented César Hernández from scoring from first base on what was now an automatic double.
Martinez, though, argued the ball never actually did leave the field of the play.
"We looked at it, and I was wondering why the first base umpire called for a double," Martinez said. "I didn't see the ball hit the foul pole. So I just asked for them to (look at it). We challenged it. It worked out in our favor."
Sure enough, upon review, officials in New York correctly ruled the ball crossed over a corner of the wall that would be out of play but never actually touched anything there. Hernández was awarded home plate, and the Nationals had tied the game.
Maybe that was a sign the outcome of this contest would be different than so many that came before it.
"What's funny is, once they overturned it, our dugout went crazy," Martinez said. "It was a good feeling. We got a call our way."