Nats rally twice but still lose another in extras (updated)

The Nationals managed to rally to get Patrick Corbin off the hook for his 17th loss of the season by scoring in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

They managed to rally to tie the game again in the bottom of the 10th, thanks to CJ Abrams’ well-timed first hit since joining the club.

But because they couldn’t deliver one final clutch hit in the 11th inning, they were still left to suffer their 79th loss of the season, yet another one in extra frames.

After both teams pushed across their automatic runner in the 10th, the Cubs scored twice in the 11th, getting an RBI double from Patrick Wisdom and a run-scoring single from Seiya Suzuki off Victor Arano. And when the Nats failed to mount one last rally in the bottom of the inning, they wound up on the wrong end of a wild, 7-5 ballgame.

It was the Nationals’ seventh loss in eight extra-inning games this season. Over the last two years, they’re now 3-18 in extras. They’re still seeking their first walk-off win of 2022.

"We had our chances," manager Davey Martinez said. "We had our moments to put the game away. We just couldn't do it."

The final outcome may have been frustrating, but there was no shortage of drama once the game extended beyond the bottom of the ninth.

The Cubs did the bare minimum necessary to score their automatic runner in the top of the 10th. A single by Zach McKinstry put runners on the corners with nobody out, and though the lead runner (Ian Happ) would be sent back to third base moments later when McKinstry collided with second baseman César Hernández and was called out for interference, he would eventually score on Willson Contreras’ sacrifice fly to left.

The Nats did give themselves a fighting chance when Yadiel Hernandez fired the ball to third base for an inning-ending double play, so they trailed by only one run when they came up to bat in the bottom of the 10th. And when Abrams delivered an RBI single through the right side of the infield for his first hit in nine at-bats since his promotion from Triple-A Rochester this week – a close safe call at the plate upheld on replay review – the 21-year-old had his big moment in the spotlight.

"Just take a few breaths and swing at a good pitch," Abrams said, adding: "Just happy, excited that I could tie it up."

"I'm glad he got his first hit, and a big one at that," Martinez said. "But the kid's not afraid. He goes out there and competes. He had some good swings today. I told him, 'It's just a matter of time before the ball starts dropping in there for you.'"

All of this came after the Nationals put together an inspiring rally earlier to tie the game. The runs didn’t come in bunches, but they came one by one late to pull off one of the more dramatic comebacks of the season. The Nats scored once in the sixth, once in the seventh and then twice in the eighth via solo homers by Luke Voit and Lane Thomas.

Voit's and Thomas’ blasts, each of them to left field off Chicago right-hander Rowan Wick, brought the crowd of 23,362 to life and ensured Corbin could no longer be charged with the loss. But with a chance to finish the rally altogether and take the lead in the eighth, Abrams struck out looking and Hernandez grounded out with the bases loaded to leave the game knotted at 4-4 and set the stage for late drama, long after Corbin had departed the game.

"We battled back," Martinez said. "We hit some home runs. We still left some guys on base. Yadi smoked a ball to second base with the bases loaded. We kept battling back. The guys played hard. We'll come back tomorrow early and do it again."

Having been skipped over his last turn through the rotation to give him a 10-day break and a chance to make some mechanical tweaks in the bullpen, Corbin returned tonight with some added pressure attached to his outing. Martinez wouldn’t go so far as to call this an "audition" for the left-hander to remain in the rotation, but with Erick Fedde nearing a return from the injured list and Cade Cavalli seemingly near to making his major league debut, the rationale for continuing to pitch Corbin every fifth day is waning.

If nothing else, the Nationals surely don’t want to subject a key member of their World Series-winning roster to the indignation that awaits if he loses three more games this season. Even with tonight’s no-decision, Corbin still owns a 4-16 record, his ERA dropping just a touch from 7.02 to 6.96. No major leaguer has lost 20 games since the Tigers’ Mike Maroth in 2003, and nobody else has done it since 1980.

Even if Corbin doesn’t pitch another inning in 2022, he’s close to securing one of the worst seasons in modern baseball history. Only four pitchers have ever lost 17 or more games with an ERA over 6.96, and the only one to do it since 1936 was Jim Abbott in 1996.

Thing is, Corbin actually looked better tonight than he has in many of his recent outings. Not that the bar was particularly high; he failed to complete the first inning in two of his last three starts. But he did show some things tonight that stood out for good reason, most notably his increased usage of a changeup.

The Nationals have wanted Corbin to do this for some time, insisting he wasn’t going to have success throwing only fastballs and sliders. He finally put it into practice tonight, throwing 13 changeups overall and at one point early on actually throwing more of them than he did sliders.

"I definitely threw more," he said. "I didn't know I'd thrown that many. It was working well, so I think it was a pitch I was comfortable throwing. I think the more I did throw it, it felt better."

There still were mistakes, though, and the Cubs made Corbin pay for them. Three straight hits in the second inning brought home the game’s first run. An RBI double by Nico Hoerner and a two-out RBI single by P.J. Higgins accounted for two more runs in the fourth. And when Franmil Reyes drove a sinker to right for a solo homer in the sixth, Corbin’s shot at a quality start went down the drain.

"I think the times today I did get in trouble were on a couple balls that were left up," he said. "But I think for the most part, we were down in the zone."

Had his teammates done more at the plate, Corbin wouldn’t have been on the hook for yet another loss. But they did not, failing to score a run until the sixth while scattering various singles and a couple walks along the way.

They also ran themselves out of a potential rally in the bottom of the first, when Victor Robles didn’t get back to first quickly enough on a fly ball to right, then didn’t slide into the bag as the throw came in to double him up. It was merely the latest fundamental gaffe by the beleaguered center fielder, who did make a diving catch in the field later.

The double play also came back to haunt the Nationals in the bottom of the seventh, at a most critical moment. Having finally gotten on the board via Nelson Cruz’s sacrifice fly and Ildemaro Vargas’ RBI single, they now were threatening to tie the game or even take the lead with the bases loaded, one out and Joey Meneses at the plate.

Meneses, who earlier in the evening extended his hitting streak to 10 games, dug in as the crowd of 26,362 urged him to deliver yet another clutch hit. But the 30-year-old rookie sensation grounded the very first pitch he saw to short for a killer 6-4-3 double play, the Nationals’ league-high 113th of the season.

"We've got some guys in the middle of our lineup right now that have got some thump, and they're going to swing big," Martinez said. "It's just who they are. Joey today just chased more than I've seen him chase. He's just got to get back into the zone."

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