With 2019 champs in house, Nats rally to beat Astros (updated)

With much of the 2019 World Series championship roster in the house, the 2024 Nationals took a page from their celebrated predecessors and mounted a late comeback that special group surely could appreciate.

Then they pulled off a feat even the greatest team in Nats history never pulled off: They beat the Astros at home.

With a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth capped by Jesse Winker's two-run single, the Nationals stormed back to force extra innings. Then with one swing from Joey Meneses in the bottom of the 10th, they completed a 5-4 victory over Houston to cap a celebratory afternoon on South Capitol Street.

"I think it's cool, especially with those guys in the stands who had that great run in '19," said Lane Thomas, whose outfield assist in the top of the 10th set the stage for Meneses' game-winning hit. "It's cool to do that in front of them."

Trailing 4-2 with three outs to go, and unable to deliver any clutch hits throughout the game, the Nats finally came through when they needed it against Astros closer Ryan Pressly. Nick Senzel reached on catcher’s interference, then CJ Abrams launched a double high off the wall in right-center to put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out.

Winker, the surprise offensive star of this young season, singled up the middle to score both runs, the Nationals’ first hit of the day with runners in scoring position in 11 attempts, as a crowd of 34,608 including 2019 alumni roared with approval.

"I really want to be up there in that moment. I look forward to that moment," said Winker, now batting .339 with a .987 OPS after signing a minor league deal on the eve of spring training. "Obviously, this game's hard, and these pitchers are good. But anytime you can have guys on base, I feel like there's a lot of pressure on the pitcher."

Unable to get the winning run home there, the Nats were left to try to do it in extra innings. First, they needed to keep the Astros from re-taking the lead. They did so thanks in large part to Lane Thomas’ perfect throw from foul territory down the right field line to nail the tagging-up Jose Altuve at the plate, ending the top of the 10th.

"Knowing it's foul, if it falls, it's not really going to hurt you," Thomas said of his thought process as he tracked down Alex Bregman's fly ball. "I was just trying to make a good play."

And before anyone could settle in for the bottom of the inning, Meneses drove the first pitch he saw from Seth Martinez to the gap in right-center, easily scoring automatic runner Nasim Nuñez from second base with the winning run. It was only the sixth RBI of a difficult opening month for Meneses, who entered with a .477 OPS and just two hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"I've been battling and struggling to start the season," the DH said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "This kind of at-bat and situation kind of relaxes me. And obviously, I'm excited about that. ... Every at-bat I take, I try to feel like it's a fresh start. Focus on that, and don't let the previous at-bats affect me."

The late rally helped the Nationals avoid what was shaping up to be another demoralizing loss after Davey Martinez pulled Trevor Williams while the starter was cruising. For the second time this week, Martinez stuck to his plan and pulled his starter before he could falter, then watched his bullpen falter again.

Williams once again pitched well enough to earn the win but wasn’t given the opportunity to reach the later innings, pulled after 77 pitches despite allowing only one run on three hits and lowering his ERA to 2.91.

"I'm just happy that the guys trust me to go out there every five days," the right-hander said. "All I can do right now is: My job is to give the team a chance to win every five days. I'm thankful that the guys are playing good defense behind me and the offense is picking each other up."

Williams had to pitch all day with little run support. Abrams brought the large crowd to its feet in a hurry, blasting Ronel Blanco’s first-pitch fastball in the bottom of the first for a leadoff homer, his second in a week. The 23-year-old shortstop, perhaps now the most prominent face of the active roster, leads the team with six homers. And eight of his last nine hits have gone for extra bases.

The Nationals would push across one more run against Blanco, getting a fourth-inning sacrifice fly from Riley Adams. There were opportunities for more, but they went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position off the 30-year-old right-hander, who opened his season with 14 consecutive hitless innings.

Williams did his part to try to make those two runs hold up. The veteran starter dug himself into a quick 1-0 hole in the top of the first but immediately dug himself out of it and kept the Astros from doing anything else against him.

With a plan of attack that already served him well in his previous three starts, Williams went right after hitters, throwing 52 of his 77 pitches for strikes, issuing zero walks and rarely reaching a three-ball count. He struck out Jeremy Peña and Chas McCormick in succession in the fifth, each looking at fastballs that caught enough of the plate. And when he retired the side in short order in the sixth, he and his manager found themselves in an awfully familiar position.

After pulling Williams with a 6-1 lead in the sixth – and then watching that lead disappear in a flash – Sunday in Oakland, Martinez made clear his philosophy on handling his No. 5 starter: "Look, I've known Trevor for a while. Right about that 80-pitch mark, I think that's good for him."

So nobody should’ve been surprised when the top of the seventh arrived today and Robert Garcia jogged in from the home bullpen. Nor, unfortunately, should anyone have been surprised by what happened next. Summoned specifically to face the lefty-heavy portion of the Houston lineup, Garcia proceeded to give up singles to Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker sandwiched around a walk of Alex Bregman. The game was tied, and Martinez was back to the mound signaling for Harvey to clean up the mess.

Hunter Harvey would surrender an RBI single to Pena, and just like that, the 2-1 lead was a 3-2 deficit. And Martinez was left to explain a pitching decision that didn’t work once again.

"We've got to remember, he just started starting last year," Martinez said of Williams, who had been a swingman in 2021-22 with the Mets. "He got worn down at the end last year. So I want to keep him going. Maybe when it starts getting really warm out there and we need him because our bullpen's beat up, yeah. If he's doing what he's doing now, he can maybe get us through that seventh inning."

This time, those questions could take a back seat to questions about a rally reminiscent of the 2019 team that was celebrated today.

"It was definitely magic," Martinez said. "We played a lot of games like that in '19. I'll reiterate that the boys don't quit. They play hard til the last out. That's my thing: Play hard for 27 outs. You never know what's going to happen."

Game 21 lineups: Nats vs. Astros
Five-year celebration brings smiles, memories of 2...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/